Kristen Giovanni, et al v. United States Department of Navy
The Giovanni and Palmer families, locals to the Willow Grove and Warminster area (respectively) filed suit against the U.S. Navy for its role leading to the contamination of their drinking water through the Navy’s use, and improper disposal of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOAs) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS). Exposure to these chemicals has been linked extensively to adverse health effects including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and an increased risk of certain types of cancers.
Drinking water from both the Giovanni and Palmer family’s private wells measured well above the EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion for these contaminants. After receiving bottled water from the Navy for a short period of time, they switched to municipal water, which too, tested well above the advised levels.
Both parties filed separately under the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) requesting that 1) a health assessment be conducted that would include blood testing for themselves and other community members impacted by the contamination, and that 2) the Navy be required to pay for medical monitoring for so that afflicted parties can address the harms that they may have suffered due to the Navy’s improper disposal of those chemicals.
The Navy argued for dismissal of the case because the case would constitute a challenge to ongoing response and remediation actions involving a Superfund site and therefore would be jurisdictionally barred by federal law under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The District Court agreed and dismissed the case and the Giovannis and Palmers appealed the decision to the 3rd Circuit Court.
As staunch and active advocates for stronger regulations for safer and cleaner drinking water in the case of Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs), the Delaware Riverkeeper Network joined the case as an Amicus and filed a brief in support of the plaintiff’s plea. DRN argued that it would be unreasonable to prevent any victim of contamination from seeking recourse in any court while potentially decades-long remediation is in progress. Furthermore, seeking health assessment or cost recuperation for medical monitoring does not necessarily interfere or challenge ongoing remediation efforts under CERCLA.
Ultimately, the 3rd Circuit Court affirmed in part to dismiss the claims compelling the Navy conduct a health effects study, but vacated the lower court’s decision that would have prevented cost coverage for medical monitoring as it does not conflict with CERCLA. The Giovannis and Palmers are now allowed to proceed with their litigation to have the Navy create a trust fund to cover their medical monitoring expenses, giving them an opportunity to understand and begin surveillance to catch the health problems associated with the contamination at a time when they will hopefully still be able to undertake medical treatment.