Water treatment facility

Well water injected with hydrogen peroxide passes through UV/AOP reactors at Tucson Water’s advanced oxidation process water treatment facility near Irvington and Interstate 19.

The city of Tucson and the town of Marana are suing five companies to pay for the removal of toxic and possibly cancer-causing chemicals found in some area water wells.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages against 3M and other companies that manufactured, marketed and sold a firefighting foam that contained chemical compounds commonly known as PFCs, PFAs and PFOAs.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, like other bases around the country, used these compounds in firefighting foam for more than four decades — from 1971 until last year.

The substances have been linked in studies to some forms of developmental and reproductive problems, and to testicular and kidney cancer. While health agencies have not said these compounds cause cancer in people, an agency of the World Health Organization has said that PFOAs are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

With the lawsuit, city and town officials seek to recover “all costs” associated with the contamination, including the costs of treating and removing PFC contamination from wells that supply public drinking water and of drilling new ones to replace the closed wells.

Three wells just north of D-M and a half-dozen wells serving customers on the northwest side, including the Continental Ranch area of Marana, have been shut down.

In city well samples taken in October 2017 and March 2018, levels of the compounds ranged from 97 parts per trillion to 3,320 parts per trillion. That compares with an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.

In August, Tucson Water temporarily shut down a treatment plant after discovering it was sending water to thousands of customers containing unexpectedly high levels of PFAs. Levels reached 29 to 30 parts per trillion in samples taken Aug. 1 at three sampling points.

City officials said they believed the water was safe to drink but adjusted treatment to slash the contaminant levels “out of an abundance of caution” and to increase the margin of safety.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik estimated that the lawsuit could be worth tens of millions of dollars.

“At the very least, the product manufacturers who have known the effects of what they were distributing owe it to our community to fund the cleanup, fund our lost water capacity and fund maintenance going forward of any treatment facilities we have to build in order to clean it out of our system,” said Kozachik.

“If that’s tens of millions of dollars, that’s 3M’s problem. Our ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay a penny for their negligence.”

Officials with 3M did not answer calls for comment, and messages left with the company were not immediately returned.

Kozachik pointed to court documents related to a similar lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota that revealed the manufacturers knew for decades that their products were dangerous.

The lawsuit filed jointly by Tucson and Marana makes similar allegations.

The Minnesota lawsuit was settled, with manufacturers agreeing to pay $850 million to fix water-quality issues caused by the chemicals.

“We know that 3M has had guilty knowledge for decades that this stuff is toxic, and yet they withheld that information and continued pushing it into the market,” Kozachik said.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild emphasized that while Tucson has taken the proper precautions and the drinking water is safe, there is a long-term cost associated with the contamination.

“There is a long-term need to treat the contamination,” he said, adding those costs should be paid by 3M and other manufacturers.

Marana officials declined to discuss the lawsuit.

However, the town has already green-lighted the construction of treatment facilities for its water systems.

New York City-based Napoli Shkolnik and Phoenix-based Gallagher & Kennedy have been hired to represent Tucson and Marana, as they have legal expertise with similar cases.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.