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Connecticut residents file lawsuits against state water companies

Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Cincinnati. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose restrictions on harmful "forever chemicals" in drinking water after finding they are dangerous in amounts so small as to be undetectable, but experts say removing them will cost billions. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
Joshua A. Bickel
Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response.

Three Connecticut residents have filed a class action lawsuit against two of the state's water suppliers, Connecticut Water and Aquarion.

They claim the companies should be doing more to get PFAS chemicals out of their water supply.

PFAS chemicals, also called forever chemicals, have been used for decades in products ranging from cooking pans to heavy machinery. They are called forever chemicals because they do not break down naturally.

When ingested, they can cause cancer and other health issues.

The three lead plaintiffs represent hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents who get their water from Connecticut Water, which is based in Clinton, and Aquarion, which is based in Bridgeport.

Ian Sloss is a partner at Stamford-based Silver, Golub, and Teitell, the firm representing the plaintiffs.

He said the companies aren’t doing enough to remove the chemicals from their water supply.

“People don't have an option where to get drinking water," Sloss said. "So the state grants these companies monopolies over certain areas, and they are the only drinking water providers, absent somebody having a well, and for them to just feel like they are not obligated to give Connecticut citizens the greatest care with the quality of the water that they're serving them is just pretty egregious to us.”

The lawsuit seeks to force the companies to install filtration systems, pay for health tests for residents who may have been exposed to the chemicals and reimburse customers who paid for the contaminated water.

In June 2022, the state Department of Public Health updated its drinking water action levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are 10 parts-per-trillion for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) , and 16 parts-per trillion (ppt; ng/L) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Data cited in the lawsuit shows multiple Connecticut towns had 10ppt as recently as 2022.

“The technology exists to remove these chemicals from water down to non-detectable levels," Sloss added. "And what is most problematic about this is to us is that these water companies have known about this and haven't installed any of this technology.”

In a statement, Aquarion said they had been testing their water since 2019, but that they had no enforceable standards at the state or federal level.

“Aquarion Water Company takes the quality of its water very seriously to ensure that it meets or exceeds all state and federal water quality standards. Currently, there are no federal or state (Connecticut) enforceable standards for the treatment of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Aquarion is committed to continuing to work closely with policymakers, regulators, and other stakeholders to address PFAS,” the statement read.

Connecticut Water released a similar statement.

“The water provided by Connecticut Water to its customers is in compliance with all current and state and federal regulations for drinking water, including PFAS,” the statement read. “The company proactively began testing for PFAS in 2019 and, in those instances where it was detected, customers were notified of its presence. Test results are also included in the annual water quality reports available to customers. Connecticut Water is closely following the U.S. EPA’s proposed standard for PFAS in drinking and will treat the water to the standard set by EPA to remain in compliance with drinking water standards.”

Sloss said those statements are not enough.

“They've said that they're in compliance with federal drinking water regulations and any enforceable regulations,” Sloss said. “But that doesn't absolve them of the responsibility to provide citizens with clean, safe, non-contaminated water. So, you know, that’s not an absolute defense to what our action is about.”

The lawsuits have been filed in state Superior Court.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.