A lawsuit between Whidbey Island residents and the manufacturers of firefighting foam that contaminated area drinking water has been transferred to a South Carolina court.
The Whidbey Island case is one of dozens from states including Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania that have been transferred to U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for review since September, according to court records.
It is one of two cases in Washington, the other of which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
In the Whidbey Island case, Oak Harbor resident Krista Jackson is leading the charge for hundreds of current and former residents near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Military bases and airports are the primary locations where the firefighting foam was used due to its success in putting out petroleum-based fires such as from aircraft crashes.
Chemicals from the foam — called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or generally PFAS — pose health concerns including possibly affecting fetal development and increasing the risks of some cancers, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The presence of those chemicals in drinking water throughout the country, including in several residential wells on Whidbey Island, has been the subject of many lawsuits in recent years.
When initially transferred into what is called a multi-district litigation, there were 75 cases involving similar complaints against the companies that manufactured, marketed, sold and distributed the firefighting foam.
The number of cases transferred neared 100 as of this week, according to court records, and “is likely to grow significantly.”
The cases represent thousands of plaintiffs.
Robert Teel, one of the lawyers on the Whidbey Island case, said that includes hundreds who have joined the local lawsuit since it was filed Feb. 5.
Two companies, 3M Company and Tyco Fire Products, are named as the main defendants in the multi-district litigation. They are two of five companies named in the Whidbey Island case.
The U.S. District Court’s Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided to transfer the various cases to a single court in an effort to consolidate the common allegations brought by each: that the use of the firefighting foam caused contamination of water supplies, that the contamination is toxic to human health, and that the manufacturers knew and concealed the dangers associated with the product.
Addressing those allegations in a single court will prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings and free up courts and lawyers throughout the country, according to court documents.
The District of South Carolina was selected because it “has the capacity and resources to successfully guide this litigation,” according to court documents.