Some problems just won't go away. That's what a lot of companies probably think about people who gripe about issues the companies would rather not deal with—as well as what the people griping think about the actual problem. TCE, or trichloroethylene, contamination of water supplies is one of those problems. It persists for decades.
The EPA is about to begin "precautionary" testing in a Pennsylvania town for TCE and other contaminant vapors, and while the EPA sounds casual about it, residents seem pretty certain that the Havertown Pentachlorophenol (PCP) Superfund Site is the reason for the testing. And a class-action lawsuit began last month in Canada against the federal government and two private companies for being negligent in both their handling of TCE for decades, as well as in informing the public of the effects associated with TCE once they became known.
The Toronto Star reports that one of the companies being sued owns the land where munitions were produced during World War II. The suit seeks $200 million in punitive damages.
The government says the suit has "no basis," despite the detection of TCE levels in the town's water about 1,500 times higher than the recommended safe level for drinking, and despite the cancer rate being five times higher among those exposed to TCE in the town of Shannon, near Quebec City.
Marie-Paule Spieser is a Shannon resident and lead plaintiff in the suit. She thought back to her young children (now grown) drinking and bathing in the contaminated water: "I'm scared mostly for them," she said. "I'm scared for this entire generation. It's like making a 2-year-old child smoke."
The Star reports that the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Charles Veilleux, compared the case to tobacco companies denying the link between smoking and cancer. He said, "The fact that for years TCE was dumped into the environment and was percolating to reach underground water, it's a disaster."
But it's not just the town of Shannon in Canada or Haverford in Pennsylvania—according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, TCE is the most often-reported organic contaminant in groundwater, and says between nine and 34 percent of drinking water sources in the U.S. have some TCE contamination.
Let's hope the class action lawsuit brings the companies involved to task, and sets a precedent that perhaps the U.S. can follow.