The state of Wisconsin is suing a manufacturer of Marinette and its parent company over toxic “eternal chemicals” that contaminated community waters in northeastern Wisconsin.
Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a civil lawsuit Monday against Johnson Controls and Tyco Fire Products for failing to notify the Department of Natural Resources that it had rejected fire-fighting foam containing compounds known as PFAS and for not cleaning it.
Kaul is asking a Marinette County court to hold Johnson Controls liable for state costs related to the contamination and force the company to investigate and clean up near the Fire Technology Center.
“When companies contaminate our water, they must fully repair the damage they caused,” Kaul said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Every Wisconsinite should be able to count on the safety of the water they drink.”
A Johnson Controls spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
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According to the complaint, Tyco and its predecessor, Ansul, have been testing the foam since 1962, contaminating the air, soil, surface water and groundwater around the plant with the synthetic compounds, which have been linked to cancer and to other diseases.
Between 2013 and 2016, Tyco found elevated levels of PFAS in soil and groundwater around the site, but did not report the results to DNR until 2017, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the company has not yet completed an investigation of the site as required by state law and has taken only “limited steps” to address the contamination.
Since 2017, Johnson Controls has sampled 172 private wells, 22 of which were contaminated with two PFAS compounds at levels deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Another 38 had levels above the Wisconsin Department of Health’s recommended drinking water standards.
Kaul acknowledged Johnson Controls conducted a limited investigation and was working with residents and the DNR.
“They have taken positive steps,” he said. “But we’ve reached a point in this process right now where we think the way forward is through litigation.”
The lawsuit comes as the state’s power to require the cleanup of PFASs is challenged by the state’s largest business lobby.
State law gives the DNR the authority to regulate the release of hazardous substances, which the law defines as “anything that may harm human health and safety or the environment, because of the location where it is spilled, the quantity spilled, its toxicity or its concentration.”
There is no definitive list of hazardous substances, which can include toxic chemicals as well as manure, corn, or even milk and beer, which in high concentrations can pollute public waters and kill aquatic life.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Trade and an Oconomowoc dry cleaner say DNR is breaking the law by forcing polluters to clean up spills without going through a lengthy rule-making process subject to legislative approval for each substance individual.
This story will be updated.