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Residents of PFAS-polluted island file $42.4M in claims against Wisconsin city

Attorneys representing hundreds of residents in the town of Campbell on French Island filed the claims against the city of La Crosse

A yard sign says "Stop poisoning our water."
A sign in Kayla Furton’s yard Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Peshtigo, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Residents of an island polluted with PFAS chemicals have filed claims demanding more than $40 million from a western Wisconsin city they say is responsible for the contamination.

Municipalities across Wisconsin are grappling with pollution from PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The man-made chemicals are present in a range of products, including cookware, firefighting foam and stain-resistant clothing. The substances don’t break down naturally and have been linked to a host of health issues in humans.

As of June 2021, more than 500 wells in the town of Campbell on French Island tested positive for the chemicals, with some wells registering levels thousands of times higher than federal recommendations.

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Attorneys representing hundreds of Campbell residents filed claims against the city of La Crosse in June demanding a total of $42.4 million to compensate them for diminished property value resulting from the contamination, WKBT-TV reported.

The city lies just across the Black River from French Island. The city’s airport is located on the island; the claims allege that firefighting foam used for training at the airport beginning in the 1970s caused the contamination. The claims also allege that the city learned PFAS levels in island groundwater exceeded federal recommendations as early as 2014 but didn’t inform residents.

If the city denies the claims the residents would be free to file a lawsuit. The city’s attorney, listed on the city’s website as Stephen Matty, didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment Friday.

The city sued nearly two dozen chemical companies in 2021 alleging they knew PFAS were toxic since the 1960s. The case was transferred to federal court in South Carolina were it became part of a sweeping lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers involving thousands of plaintiffs, including state and local governments. Several manufacturers have settled portions of the larger case for billions of dollars.

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