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Local families suing United States, Defense Department and Air Force over contamination

SPOKANE, Wash - Two property owners in Spokane County have filed a claim in federal court, saying the U.S. Air Force owes them for money lost due to groundwater contamination near Fairchild Air Force Base.

For decades, Fairchild and other bases across the country used a firefighting foam that contained PFOS and PFOA, which are chemicals that migrated into the groundwater nearby.

In early 2017, Fairchild and the City of Airway Heights disclosed contamination in wells and groundwater. People were encouraged to drink and cook with bottled water until all the wells could be tested and filtration systems could be put in place.

A suit filed in U.S. District court last week is the latest in a series of attempts for property owners to recover money they say they lost because of the contamination.

In the claim, Vincent Fiattarone says the contamination of his property "caused a contracted buyer to reverse plans to purchase the property. He later sold the property for dramatically less than the contracted price, after incurring legal and maintenance expenses due to the tortious contamination."

The suit claims Bradley and Jam Shrum suffered financial losses "when they were unable to sell the crops from their family farm, which had been irrigated for decades with the contaminated groundwater, and when the value of a rental home on their property was reduced due to the contamination of its water well."

According to the lawsuit, Fiattarone and the Shrums filed tort claims in the case in 2017; the Air Force denied both claims.

The lawsuit goes after the United States of America, the United States Department of Defense and the United States Air Force. The suit claims the government "selected, purchased and utilized the AFFF [firefighting foam] at Fairchild knowing that AFFF containing PFOA and/of PFOS presented an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment and was inherently dangerous." 

The suit also alleges the government failed in their duty to warn property owners and users of the danger.

Fiattarone says he saw a $29,999 reduction in the value of his property. He also incurred an additional expense of $14,823 in expense due to the contamination of his well.

The Shrums' property consists of 16.82 acres; they farm wheat and hay for human consumption at the farm they've owned since 1982.

The suit claims two wells on the property tested positive for contamination levels "far in excess of those declared safe by the EPA." The Air Force has contracted with the Shrums for the well that serves their house, but not for the well that irrigates their farm.

The suit says in 2017, the Shrums saw massive crop failure for the first time in 30 years. They did not plant a crop this year "after local grain distributors informed them that they would not purchase their crops or seeds as they would likely be contaminated with PFOS/PFOA." The Shrums also say their federal crop insurance carrier would not insure their crops if they are irrigated with contaminated water." 

The families are suing for negligence, public nuisance, private nuisance and trespass, alleging the Air Force "negligently, recklessly and/or intentionally used PFOS/PFOA-containing products in a manner that caused the PFOS/PFOA to enter [their] groundwater, well and soil."

They're suing for damages that include reduced sale price of the property, loss of income, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and other factors.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Spokane law firm of Paukert & Troppman; specifically, by attorneys Breann Beggs, Andrew Bivianoa dn Mary Elizabeth Dillon.

The U.S. government has yet to respond to the suit.

 


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