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Kaul sues Johnson Controls, Tyco over PFAS pollution

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Posted at 10:28 AM, Mar 14, 2022

MARINETTE (NBC 26) — Attorney General Josh Kaul announced Monday morning that the Wisconsin Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Johnson Controls and Tyco Fire Products over PFAS pollution in Marinette.

Kaul filed the action Monday in Marinette County Circuit Court. The foam has contaminated the area's soil, groundwater, surface water, and air. The lawsuit alleges that Johnson Controls and Tyco failed to notify the state about a PFAS discharge back in 2013.

The chemical PFAS can have numerous adverse health effects, such as serum cholesterol, immune dysregulation, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and kidney and testicular cancers, according to a release sent by the Attorney General. The discharge has left many people in the town of Peshtigo without drinking water.

Kayla Furton discovered that her drinking water had been contaminated in 2018. Her home was a part of the initial plume of water that was contaminated with PFAS.

"We were added to the initial plume which is now known as the PWSA, the private wells study area, which is the one area that Tyco and JCI is accepting responsibility for," Furton said.

Her water at one point tested at 63 parts per trillion combined PFAs compounds - an amount that's considered dangerously high.

“As soon as we learned we were in the PFAS contamination area we did switch to bottled water. Water in plastic containers was never our first choice for other chemical exposures but we decided that that was a safer option,” Furton said.

Since Furton is a part of the PWSA, the company provides bottled water as well as a water filtration system for her home. However, some are concerned that there are other areas that were impacted by the contamination where residents don't currently have access to any assistance.

“Every home within the contamination area deserves access to clean drinking water, bottled water, POET systems as an interim measure and long-term safe drinking water," Furton said. "So this announcement from Attorney General Kaul today is huge for everyone in our community.”

Other residents hope to see industry-wide changes come of this lawsuit.

"Unfortunately, the chemicals themselves still aren't regulated so there is no law stating that they can't continue using and disposing," said Marinette resident Andi Rich. "I just submitted some DNR FOIA requests this last summer and got confirmation that Johnson Controls is continuing to do live fire testing with PFAS containing foams, and their facility is right next to our highschool."

"I'm hoping that the lawsuit is a way to get their attention that this is not a legal problem. This is a health, environmental and economic problem that they need to address," said alderperson Doug Oitzinger, whose ward was heavily impacted by the contamination.

"It is so welcoming to see the Attorney General filing this lawsuit saying I'm there with you," Oitzinger said. "We're going to put the full weight of the Attorney General's office behind enforcing our environmental laws for the protection of our environment but also for the protection and well being of the people that live in these communities."

Tyco issued this statement in response to the lawsuit:

Although Tyco does not comment on pending litigation, we stand behind the years of work and considerable resources we have invested in investigating and remediating PFAS related to historic operations at our Fire Technology Center (FTC) in Marinette. We continue to build on the progress we have made to address these issues in our community, including offering bottled water and in-home filtration systems several years ago to all households in the Town of Peshtigo whose private wells were potentially impacted by PFAS from the FTC. Construction of a state-of-the-art Groundwater Extraction & Treatment System (GETS) that will treat 95% of the PFAS in area groundwater is also nearly complete and scheduled to begin operations by summer 2022. Tyco is also completing the removal of soils with aggregated PFAS from the FTC in the coming months. We will vigorously defend this lawsuit.