Hempstead names chemical companies in federal lawsuit

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, pictured at a July news conference, said that the town is seeking damages from Dow Chemical Company, Ferro Corporation, and Vulcan Materials Company in a federal lawsuit Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Hempstead)

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said Tuesday that the Town of Hempstead has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from industrial manufacturers for the costs of removing 1,4-dioxane, a highly toxic chemical, from the town’s drinking water supply wells.

“The Town of Hempstead has already begun taking action to ensure that this toxic chemical won’t harm our residents, but the costs associated with cleaning up this mess should not be borne by our taxpayers,” Gillen said.

Gillen’s office said that the town alleges that Dow Chemical Co., Ferro Corp., and Vulcan Materials Co. knowingly and willfully manufactured, promoted and/or sold products containing 1,4-dioxane to local consumers when they knew or reasonably should have known that this harmful chemical would infiltrate local water supply wells.

The Town of Hempstead operates 29 active public wells serving a population of approximately 120,000 people, Gillen’s office said.

Those wells have either been contaminated or threatened by 1,4-dioxane contamination spreading throughout the aquifer system from which the town draws its drinking water, Gillen’s office said.

Gillen’s office said that the town is suing to seek damages in order to cover the cost of building and operating new water treatment facilities equipped with the ability to remove 1,4-dioxane from the water supply, as well as punitive damages.

“Clean, safe drinking water is a human right and those who threaten that right will have to pay the price,” Gillen said.

Janet Kavinosky, a spokeswoman for Vulcan Materials Co., said Hempstead has presented no evidence to support its allegations. Kavinosky said that the company
will be seeking dismissal from the lawsuits.

Kavinosky said that Vulcan, a building materials company, never made or sold 1,4-dioxane but used it in the 1990s at low levels in the manufacturing of trichloroethane (TCA), a product used in metal cleaning, adhesives, plastics and refrigerants. Vulcan has not made or sold TCA since the 1990s and Vulcan’s manufacturing and sale of TCA met all regulations and laws, Kavinosky said.

“There are continuing sources and use of dioxane today in laundry detergents, pharmaceuticals, shampoos, toothpaste, lotions, cosmetics and other everyday household products,” Kavinosky said.

Representatives from the Dow Chemical Co. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Representatives from the Ferro Corp. did not respond to written requests for comment.

In July, Gillen called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that would end a legal loophole barring lawsuits against chemical manufacturers.

The legislation would pave the way for Hempstead to file suit against chemical manufacturers that the town believes are responsible for the contaminant 1,4–dioxane found in its drinking water but has not identified, Gillen’s office said.

Gillen’s office said the contamination of town drinking water could have begun as early as the 1940s.

At the time, Gillen’s office did not reveal who or what entity the town planned to sue.




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