Nantucket Airport Sues Chemical Giants Over PFAS Contamination

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: Kit Noble

The Nantucket Memorial Airport Commission has sued a group of chemical companies involved in the manufacturing of the forever chemicals known as PFAS, and is seeking damages associated with the contamination of property and water wells around the island airport stemming from its use of firefighting foam. 

The lawsuit, filed in Nantucket Superior Court on Tuesday, names some of the giants of the chemical industry, including 3M, Dupont, and Tyco, among others, accusing them of negligence and “outrageously conscious disregard” for the safety of those living and working around the airport. 

The allegations detailed in the lawsuit include claims that the companies knew of the potentially harmful impacts of PFAS chemicals on health and the environment for decades and not only failed to disclose them, but actively concealed those findings from the public and users of their products. 

Used to manufacture stain- and water-resistant products, PFAS are suspected to increase the risk of kidney and testicular cancers, as well as other health conditions.

The airport is seeking compensatory damages including the costs associated with sampling, testing, treatment, and remediation of PFAS contamination, as well as the installation and maintenance of filtration systems. 

Representing the Airport Commission in the lawsuit is Massachusetts State Rep. Harold Naughton, a Democrat from the 12th Worcester district, who is also an attorney employed by the firm Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC. Naughton did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. 

The lawsuit marks the latest chapter in Nantucket Memorial Airport’s ongoing response to the discovery last year that its property and neighboring water wells had been contaminated by PFAS, with the likely source coming from the airport’s use of firefighting foam. The airport has already committed more than $4 million to cover bottled water, testing, ongoing monitoring, filtration systems, and the construction of a new water main to bring town water services to those who have been impacted so they no longer have to use their private wells. 

The airport’s legal challenge is one of thousands of lawsuits that have been filed across the country by municipalities, residents and firefighters in relation to PFAS contamination, including over 100 cases filed by government entities.

To date, the airport has collected 462 samples from 77 residential wells and found PFAS exceeding 20 ppt in many of those wells. The airport paid to install so-called “Point of Entry” filtration systems in 18 of these homes. The airport and the Wannacomet Water Company are also working to extend a municipal water main to provide municipal water directly to affected properties.

“The Airport Commission and Airport staff has worked diligently to address PFAS contamination at the airport and in nearby homes,” said Commission Chair Arthur Gasbarro in a prepared statement. “We hope that that this suit will help compensate the airport for that hard work, and spur the manufacturers to take responsibility for the harms of PFAS at other airports as well.”

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