The Fairbanks North Star Borough and the city of North Pole are looking into joining dozens of other cities and towns suing the manufacturers of a firefighting foam containing a toxic chemical that has contaminated lakes and groundwater.
The municipalities have been approached by a New York City law firm, Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, which is offering to work on a contingent fee basis, which is when a lawyer agrees to accept payment after a judgment or settlement is won.
Borough Attorney Jill Dolan is requesting Borough Assembly permission to retain the firm to explore legal options with respect to contamination on borough land.
North Pole Mayor Mike Welch said Thursday he is looking to retain the same firm.
The interest comes five months after the city of Fairbanks announced it had sued 3M Company and Tyco Fire Products, companies that made aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are man-made chemicals.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that “There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans.”
The city of Fairbanks is seeking $4.3 million in damages to recover costs of cleaning up contamination at the Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center on 30th Avenue and providing clean drinking water to neighbors whose water had high levels of the contaminant.
The city accuses 3M and Tyco of selling and marketing the firefighting foam despite knowing it was toxic.
Lawsuits from cities and public water districts across the U.S. are pending.
Near the city’s firefighter training center is the borough-owned South Davis Park, where contaminated wells have been identified. The park is a large complex of woods, soccer fields, softball fields, a playground and a dog park.
The borough is planning more testing to determine the scope of contamination on borough lands, according to Janet Smith, borough deputy public works director.
Two North Pole-area lakes were closed to fishing last spring due to PFAS contamination. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also suspended stocking of hatchery fish on lakes on Eielson Air Force Base.
“There are other areas,” said Welch, the North Pole mayor. “We have hot spots that are all around us.”
In a Sept. 3 letter to borough Mayor Bryce Ward, attorney Paul Napoli touted his firm’s credentials and history with PFAS-related and other environmental lawsuits.
The law firm represents 19 cities, towns and water districts seeking damages for PFAS contamination, according to the letter.
Napoli said the firefighting foam manufacturers knew or should have known the foams posed an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment.
“They knew these chemicals are highly soluble in water, highly mobile, extremely persistent in the environment, and are highly likely to contaminate water supplies when released into the environment,” he wrote in the letter to Ward.
Attorneys for the city of Fairbanks could not be reached to comment on the status of their lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would study the prevalence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in human blood and urine around Eielson Air Force Base.
The study is part of a larger national study involving random samples of volunteers that is being conducted this year and into 2020.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.