Riverhead is suing three companies that they say are responsible for manufacturing, selling and promoting products containing toxic perfluorinated compounds that ended up in local drinking water supply wells.
The lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 25 at U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip, alleges that The 3M Company, DuPont and The Chemoirs Company — listed as defendants in the case — all "manufactured, marketed, sold, and/or promoted their PFAS (poly-fluoroalkyl substances) products to industrial facilities and consumers in New York," with PFOA and PFOS chemicals ending up in at least two of the town’s 17 public drinking water supply wells.
The wells are at the Riverhead Water District’s Plant #5, on Middle Road and Northville Turnpike, according to Frank Mancini, Riverhead Water District’s superintendent.
The lawsuit further states that for more than 50 years, the defendants "were or should have been aware of the dangers posed to people by exposure to their PFOA and PFOS products (including via drinking water)" yet they "failed to adequately investigate and test their products to ensure they would not cause harm to the public."
Without naming specific sites, the lawsuit states there are several current and former industrial sites near town wells or in the vicinity of Riverhead’s water supply sources "that are likely to have contributed to the release of PFOA and PFOS from defendants’ PFAS Products, and consequent contamination of the town’s wells."
Mancini said Thursday that the town does not know specifically how or from which facility the contamination at the two wells came. However, because the corporations named in the suit are responsible for producing the toxic chemicals, those manufacturers should be held accountable, Mancini said.
"That’s the nature of the lawsuit," Mancini said. "It’s not necessarily the person who released it, although if we found that out we would likely pursue them, as well. It’s the manufacturers that produce the chemicals, because they are not naturally occurring. They’re patented chemicals."
While PFOA has been linked to cancer, both PFAS and PFOA chemicals have been known to cause tumors in animals, and other findings show exposure can cause low infant birth weights, immune system issues and thyroid hormone disruption, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The town is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Sean Lynch, a 3M spokesman, issued a statement Thursday defending the company.
"3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship," Lynch said.
Representatives from DuPont and The Chemoirs Company did not return requests for comment.