Groundwater Contamination Lawyers
Clean water—for drinking, cooking and bathing— is a fundamental human right. The sad reality, however, is that many communities in the United States do not have access to clean water. The CDC estimates that nearly 150 million Americans get their tap water from a groundwater source, sources which are frequently contaminated by a multitude of hazardous chemicals which are often colorless and odorless. And without adequate testing, there is no way to know if the groundwater is safe for use.
If a corporation has been dumping toxic chemicals unchecked, people may have been exposed to water laced with dangerous contaminants, such as TCE, PCE and PFAS, for years. When faced with the shocking news that you and your family have been exposed to groundwater contamination, you need trial attorneys who have experience litigating groundwater contamination cases.
Fortunately, our environmental attorneys are skilled advocates with decades of experience representing the victims of groundwater contamination. We have a nationwide network of scientific experts who will work with us to help determine the source and the extent of the pollution, the most effective methods to clean up the contamination, and whether the contamination has harmed anyone’s health. Additionally, as veterans of many class action and individual toxic tort lawsuits, we have a deep understanding of the law and what is at stake for you and your family. Call us at (630) 527-1595 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation and let us help you find answers.Sources of Groundwater Contamination
Groundwater contamination can be caused by many possible sources. Some of the most common are:
- Industrial Plants – Accidental spills or the intentional dumping of hazardous chemicals can very easily leach into the soil and be transported in groundwater miles from the source of the original spill.
- Storage Tanks – The EPA estimates there are 542,000 underground storage tanks in the U.S. used to store petroleum or other hazardous material. Any leaks in a storage tank pose an immediate threat to groundwater.
- Landfills – Landfills are supposed to have a protective bed that prevents hazardous material from leaking into the ground beneath the landfill. However, not all landfills are built with these beds, and even if they are, a single crack in the foundation is enough for hazardous material to seep through and contaminate the surrounding landscape.
- Abandoned Waste Sites – The Public Interest Research Group notes that 1 in 6 Americans live within 3 miles of a toxic waste site deemed dangerous enough to have been, at minimum, proposed for clean-up by the EPA’s Superfund program – with the number growing by the year. These sites are often ground zero for hazardous contamination, with dozens of highly dangerous chemicals kept in poorly maintained conditions, or frequently abandoned outright.
- Road Salts – Road salt and other chemicals used to maintain American streets wind up in the dirt at the side of these roads and can often contaminate nearby groundwater sources.
- Agricultural Chemicals – Herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers – the dangers posed by these chemicals to human health is well documented. Not only can they be present in produce treated by these chemicals, but in the ground and groundwater itself.
- Atmospheric Pollutants – Not all chemical contaminants of groundwater are directly tied to events in the immediate surroundings. Pollutants that have entered the water cycle – any pollutants present in evaporated air, clouds, or rainfall--may then be preserved in groundwater.
All these sources of contamination pose both immediate and long-term threats to American communities that rely on groundwater, which is often less regulated than other sources of tap water. In Illinois, groundwater is legally exempt from the general use standards as well as the food and water supply standards Illinois requires for other sources of tap water. Testing is especially important for private wells, which do not require regulated testing for use. These tests should be done annually, although special testing should also be done if the character of your tap water changes, or if nearby events have occurred that could contaminate groundwater in the area.
Groundwater, just like other bodies of water, flows directionally according to gravity and pressure, and can transport any contaminants that enter the groundwater at any point along its path. Just because there hasn’t been a chemical spill in your backyard or a surrounding neighborhood does not mean your tap water is safe.The Safe Drinking Water Act
First passed in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) aims to create legally enforceable and uniform standards of safety for tap water sources across the United States. Individual states set different regulatory standards for acceptable contaminants, but that new level must be below the level determined by the SDWA.
The SDWA was a step in the right direction – regulation for dangerous contaminants and pollution is better than none – but it still has many problems. For example:
- Most chemicals aren’t regulated under the SDWA. There are currently approximately 90 contaminants that are on the SDWA’s regulatory list. However, there are tens of thousands of potential contaminants that can be found in tap water.
- Similarly, the SDWA is slow to include new contaminants. Newly manufactured industrial chemicals, or chemicals that are only recently known to be dangerous, often take years, if not decades, to be regulated by the SDWA.
- This is partly because the SDWA operates according to the “safe until proven dangerous” idea – the concept that a chemical doesn’t require safety regulation until it is proved to be a threat to human health. This often means that for years after its introduction, a chemical is freely used by industry, contaminating the surrounding environment for many years before scientific data exists, and for years afterward while the regulatory bureaucracy catches up. Throughout this entire time, the health of ordinary Americans is put in immediate danger, usually without their knowledge.
- There are also certain tap water sources that aren’t regulated by the SDWA at all: private wells that serve fewer than 25 people do not have to meet any regulatory standard. These wells tap directly into groundwater, which is easily polluted by a multitude of chemicals, diseases, and biological contaminants. It is up to private individuals or companies to test and maintain these private wells, which can be expensive – even more so for lower income families.
- Additionally, regulations that do exist are not always fairly enforced. A report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that violations of the SDWA in communities of color and other low income communities take far longer to fix than richer, whiter communities.
Groundwater can be contaminated with a variety of toxins, from heavy metals to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to microorganisms. These toxins can have a significant impact on your health. Some of the most dangerous contaminants include:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
- Vinyl Chloride
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are non-naturally occurring substances that are industrially manufactured for their resistance to heat, oil, and water. They are also frequently nicknamed “forever chemicals,” because once present, they can take over 1,000 years to degrade in the environment – including the human body. National tests have found PFAS in the bodies of most Americans, with some estimates as high as 97-99% of the population. And according to the United Sates Geological Survey (USGS), at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to contain one or more types of PFAS.
Once present in the body, PFAS can cause many dangerous and severe health effects including:
- Reproductive and developmental effects and disorders
- Increased cancer risk
- Reduced immunity
- Hormonal dysregulation
- Increased cholesterol levels
Our understanding of PFAS is still incomplete, but we already know more than enough to conclude that they are dangerous and widespread. Despite this, PFAS are one of the many chemicals not regulated in tap water by the government under the SDWA. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s tap water database concludes that many sources of drinking water – including groundwater – contain PFAS in levels hundreds of times greater than the EWG’s independently determined safety standard.Is Your Tap Water Contaminated? Search the EWG Database
EWG is a nonprofit research and advocacy group focused on toxic chemicals and drinking water pollutants, with an aim towards corporate accountability. EWG has put together a database for tap water from almost 50,000 sources across the United States. This database is based on EWG’s own scientific research and includes safe contaminant thresholds in drinking water independent of the EPA. The thresholds set by the EWG are stricter and include far more contaminants than those tested under the SDWA. The database determines whether different water contaminants for tens of thousands of sources exceed the EWG’s own thresholds, and makes this data available to anyone who wants to what, exactly, they are drinking when they turn on their faucet. The database can be found here, and is searchable by zip code.
The EWG began the tap water database as a means of raising awareness of the potential contaminants in drinking water, particularly for poor or underserved communities, whose water sources are often more contaminated and dangerous than wealthy areas. The drinking water crisis made headlines after the catastrophe in Flint, Michigan, but Flint is not a standalone event. It is an extreme example of a condition that afflicts tens of millions of Americans. EWG’s Tap Water Database aims to give communities immediate and accurate information on the state of the water they receive directly from their own faucet in hopes that this awareness will lead to safer drinking water across the United States.Contact Our Groundwater Contamination Lawyers for Help
At The Collins Law Firm, our Naperville, Illinois-based environmental attorneys travel nationwide to meet with and represent the victims of groundwater contamination and other types of industrial pollution. Our aggressive trial lawyers have the skills, experience and resources to go toe-to-toe with the negligent, reckless corporate polluters who have caused the environmental contamination. Contact The Collins Law Firm today at (630) 527-1595 if your family has been victimized by groundwater contamination due to a reckless corporation's actions.