The discovery of contaminated drinking water in Salisbury, Maryland last year reportedly led to a quick response by both the state and federal governments. Households in the area have received bottled water and filters, in the hopes of making the water safer for consumption. Investigators are still trying to determine the source of the contamination. The pollutant, an industrial solvent known as trichloroethylene (TCE), has unfortunately been a rather common contaminant in drinking water supplies around the country, and not every affected population has received as thorough a response as this Maryland town. Lawsuits against businesses and government entities, including a multi-district litigation (MDL) case against the federal government in Georgia, have asserted claims for negligence related to TCE contamination.
TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC) used primarily in degreasing fabricated metal parts and other industrial processes. It does not occur in nature, but can end up in groundwater due to industrial use and disposal. It is usually colorless, nonflammable, and has an odor similar to chloroform. In large concentrations, it can have serious health effects. Contact with the skin can cause rashes, and consumption can cause liver problems and a heightened risk of cancer. The EPA, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, must establish a level for chemicals at which adverse health effects should not occur. For TCE, the level set by the EPA is zero.
TCE contamination in groundwater just south of Salisbury was first discovered in the fall of 2012. At least eighty-two homes have been affected by the pollutant. In tests of 227 private wells conducted by the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), ninety-three tested positive for varying levels of TCE. The safety limit set by the state for TCE is 2.18 parts-per-billion (ppb). Some of the wells in Salisbury had TCE levels as high as fifty-six ppb. The source, or sources, of the contamination remains unknown. Investigators are reportedly puzzled by test results, some of which show one well with excessively high TCE levels and another well less than one thousand feet away showing almost no contamination.
The MDE reportedly provided bottled water and active-charcoal filters to affected households. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reportedly providing “whole-house systems,” valued at $1,000 to $2,000 each, to homes that tested higher than thirty ppb, as well as homes with children under the age of six and pregnant women. The MDE will cover the annual maintenance cost, around $1,000, for these systems.
The most well-known recent litigation involving TCE is probably the series of cases involving pollution at Camp Lejeune, which was consolidated into an MDL case, In re Camp Lejeune, North Carolina Water Contamination Litigation, No. 1:11-md-02218, MDL No. 2218 (N.D. Ga., Feb. 4, 2011). The case initially involved four claims against the U.S. government brought by people who lived at Camp Lejeune, a Marines Corps base in North Carolina, during the period between 1957 and 1987. Contamination by various VOCs, including TCE, allegedly caused the plaintiffs to develop a range of health problems. The court dismissed much of the Camp Lejeune case in mid-2012 on statute of limitations grounds, but the case remains under appeal. According to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, as of January 2013 the case involves eleven individual claims.
The personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland who have been injured due to the negligent or illegal acts of others. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
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Photo credit: By Environmental Protection Agency [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.