Avenel resident affected by PFOA notice files class action lawsuit against Middlesex Water Company

An Avenel resident, who suffers from specific health concerns and a severely compromised immune system, filed a class action lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court against Middlesex Water Company seeking reimbursement for expenses incurred following the company’s drinking water notice regarding perfluorooctanoic acid.

Attorneys Stephen P. DeNittis, Joseph A. Osefchen, and Shane T. Prince of DeNittis Osefchen Prince P.C., Marlton, Burlington County filed a 17-page complaint on behalf of Tomas Vera on Oct. 29.

Attorneys Michael A. Galpern and Zachary M. Green of Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wikstrom and Sinins P.C., Vorhees, Camden County, filed the complaint on behalf of a proposed class similar to Vera.

When Vera receiving Middlesex County Water Company’s notice on or about Oct. 22, he did “exactly what the notice urged him to do.”

He followed the notice’s “written directives to consult with his doctor and buy bottled water as a substitute for his contaminated tap water. Vera “incurred out-of-pocket expenses, including a co-pay for that doctor’s consultation and the cost of bottled water, costs which were fully foreseeable to [the water company] at the time of the notice,” according to the complaint.

When asked for a comment, Bernadette M. Sohler, vice president of corporate affairs for Middlesex Water, said the company does not comment on litigation matters.

News of the class action lawsuit comes at the heels of an announcement municipalities. affected by the water company’s drinking water notice, banded together to retain Vlasac and Shmaruk, LLC, Iselin, and Berger Montague PC, Philadelphia, to investigate the actions implemented by 3M and Middlesex Water Company to comply with federal and state safe drinking water standards.

The notice includes all residential and retail customers served by the water company’s Park Avenue treatment plant in South Plainfield. Residential and retail customers are in South Plainfield, Clark, Edison, Metuchen, Woodbridge and Carteret.

New Jersey is one of seven states that have enforceable regulation drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

“Just like we combined forces to engage environmental experts, it makes good sense to join together on any litigation efforts because we collectively represent over 300,000 residents and that makes us a powerful force,” Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac said.

Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey said he believes litigation “is absolutely necessary” including “assessing the accurate level of PFOA contamination, insure continued truthful and timely public release of critical information, and the complete details on what Middlesex Water Company is actively doing to limit continued exposure, and ultimately mitigate this pollutant.”

McCormac, Lankey, Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch, South Plainfield Mayor Matthew P. Anesh, and Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso announced the collaboration in a press release through Woodbridge Township on Nov. 9.

Since the initial notice on Oct. 22, the municipalities have held meetings with their respective residents with representatives from the water company explaining the notice of the exceedance of the PFOA drinking water standard, which officials said is a Tier 2 violation.

Dennis Doll, the president and chief executive officer of the company, has said there is “no immediate threat” with the violation and the water is safe for customers to use.

Doll, at the meetings, explained the water company began evaluating treatment options to remove the chemical from its groundwater supply in 2019.

PFOA is a member of the group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers used in non-stick cookware and other products, as well as other commercial and industrial uses, based on its resistance to harsh chemicals and high temperatures.

PFOA has also been used in aqueous film-forming foams for firefighting and training, and it is found in consumer products such as stain-resistant coatings for upholstery and carpets, water-resistant outdoor clothing, and greaseproof food packaging, according to the water company.

Current scientific research suggests exposure to high levels of certain PFAS over many years may lead to adverse health outcomes.

The company has completed the design of a facility for enhanced treatment to comply with new state regulations in New Jersey for PFOA.

The plant, which is estimated at approximately $47 million, will use granular activated carbon, which has proved effective against PFOA and PFAS. The plant is expected to go into service by mid-2023.

Doll said the company has evidence to believe PFOA has been put into the ground by the 3M Corporation and has filed a lawsuit against the corporation in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to recoup wellfield remediation costs. He said similar lawsuits have been filed across the country.

Along with the hiring of the law firm, municipalities have also come together to retain T&M Associates, headquartered in Middletown, Monmouth County, as an environmental consultant. McCormac had announced the collaboration at its meeting on Oct. 25.

The environmental consultant will review and analyze water quality reports, tests and related documents from 3M and Middlesex Water Company as it relates to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), according to the release.

Reiman said for many years the borough has “aggressively and successfully fought to protect the health of our residents and to hold polluters accountable in the court of law.

“We demand immediate action, first to correct the exceedance of PFOA in drinking water, second to compensate our residents and businesses for the added costs of buying bottled water and the installation of water filters,” he said in the release.

Busch said “after thorough consideration” they have decided to join “the filing of this lawsuit to help protect our residents’ interests.”

Anesh said he is requesting the South Plainfield Borough Council to consider joining the lawsuit at a meeting on Nov. 15.

Middlesex Water Company has provided literature on PFOA treatment on its website as well as its notice to residents.

The notice stated people with specific health concerns, a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, may be at higher risk than other individuals and should seek advice from health care providers about drinking the water.

Doll noted at the meetings “because the science and research regarding PFOAs in drinking water is not yet mature, the medical field does not have any information.”

The New Jersey Department of Health advises that infant formula and other beverages for infants, such as juice, should be prepared with bottled water when PFOA is elevated in drinking water, the notice further stated, noting boiling water will not remove PFOA.

Women who are pregnant, nursing or considering having children may choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking to reduce exposure to PFOA. Residents can consider installing in-home water treatment (filters) that are certified to lower the levels of PFAS in the water, according to information provided during a presentation the water company held in Woodbridge on Oct. 25.

For more information, contact the company’s Customer Service Department at 800-549-3802 or visit www.middlesexwater.com/alerts. Also customers can visit the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection website at www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/pfas.