Thornton sues “forever chemicals” producers, alleging water contamination

Thornton filed a lawsuit Monday in South Carolina District Court against dozens of companies and people that produce PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, claiming the toxic substances contaminated the city’s water supply.

Not only is Thornton suing a slate of high-profile companies, like 3M, DuPont and Chemours, it’s also suing 20 unnamed “entities or persons” that might have “permitted, caused and/or contributed” to the contamination of the city’s water.

For decades the companies understood that PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, do not degrade naturally and were accumulating in people’s bodies, according to the lawsuit’s complaint.

The toxic chemicals, which are used in firefighting foam, furniture, clothing, cosmetics, cookware and much more, are linked to cancer and birth defects. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing what it considers to be an acceptable limit for the chemicals in water, though experts say they’re unsafe at any level.

Thornton officials announced in July that its water supply exceeded the EPA’s new – sharply reduced – limits for PFAS by more than 1,000 times. The city supplies water to about 160,000 people.

At the time, Thornton’s water treatment and quality manager said the source of the chemicals weren’t immediately clear but that the city had stopped using some wells from which they drew water and began treating other water sources with new chemicals to draw out the toxic substances.

Now city officials believe the contamination comes from firefighting foam used across the area for training and for actual fires, the lawsuit says. Thornton hired a consultant to help understand how best to clean the contamination.

Cleanup and damage is expected to haunt the city “for many years to come,” the lawsuit says. The city is looking for money from the companies for the damage done to its property and for the cost of “investigating, remediating, and monitoring” its drinking water.

While Thornton appears to be the first city in Colorado to sue PFAS manufacturers, its legal action follows a similar lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Cities across the state suffer similar PFAS contamination from the chemicals. Groundwater at the Air Force Academy and an aquifer serving the Security-Widefield area have also been contaminated.

In addition, a study published last spring indicated that a substantial portion of PFAS found in Sand Creek and the South Platte River can be traced to the Suncor Energy oil refinery. Cities like Commerce City, Brighton, Thornton and Aurora take in water from the river downstream of Suncor.

More than a hundred drinking water sources across the state contain what are considered to be potentially hazardous levels of the chemicals.

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