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Suffolk Water wins $1.1M in contamination suits

An image of the Suffolk County Water Authority's

An image of the Suffolk County Water Authority's logo. Credit: Handout

The Suffolk County Water Authority has won $1.1 million in settlements with some firms in its lawsuit against makers and sellers of dry cleaning compounds and equipment for contaminating the county's drinking water, officials said.

The authority, the nation's largest municipal groundwater supplier with 1.1 million customers, filed suit in 2010 against Dow Chemical and other firms to recover unspecified costs to investigate, test and remove the chemical perchloroethylene, known as PCE, from underground water supplies.

SCWA counsel Timothy Hopkins said settlements were reached this past month with eight firms, including Bayer Cropscience Inc., a successor of Stauffer Chemical Co.

The authority previously had settled with Electrolux Home Products, formerly known as White Consolidated Industries; Occidential Chemical Corp.; Diamond Shamrock Chemical Corp.; Kirrbert Corp., formerly known as Multimatic Corp.; Cooper Industries, formerly McGraw-Edison Co.; E.I. duPont de Nemours and Co. and Forenta LLP.

"Our policy is clear: Anyone who contaminates our wells, we'll go after them," said SCWA chairman James Gaughran. "We're thrilled to reach these settlements so far and we're pursuing more."

Authority officials say the pollution has not entered the public water supply, but that it is costly to study contamination problems and remediate wells.

Authority officials say they are still in discovery with Dow and about a dozen other defendants. Dow has said it has faced similar claims in the past and expressed confidence it will prevail in the court.

The authority in its suit alleges that the damages come largely from dry cleaning shops that used chemicals and equipment for decades. The suit says the companies were aware of the "typical" practice of "dumping PCE wastewater and muck into public sewer systems and the habitual problem with multiple leaks of PCE's into the environment."

Regulators say that PCE may harm the liver, kidneys and central nervous system and increase the risk of cancer if ingested at levels that exceed federal standards of 5 parts per billion.

The authority in 2008 won $73.4 million in damages as part of a $424 million settlement with 150 water utilities in 17 states against oil companies for contamination involving MTBE, a gasoline additive. Suffolk County also received $1.43 million.

Suffolk has 89 state Superfund sites and 20 federal Superfund sites, and officials estimate that about 9 percent of the sites have contamination connected to dry cleaning operations. Officials say PCE has been documented in 49 percent of all Superfund sites on Long Island.

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