City of La Crosse sues chemical companies for contaminating wells near the airport

Mayor Tim Kabat says the chemical companies, not the city, are responsible for the PFAS contamination and clean-up

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)- The City of La Crosse is suing nearly two dozen chemical companies it blames for contaminating dozens of wells near the airport. The wells are contaminated with dangerous compounds called PFAS. The man-made chemicals was used to produce the firefighting foam sprayed at the La Crosse Airport for decades. 

According to the city’s tests, PFAS in that foam spread through the groundwater, and into two city wells and more than 100 private wells in the Town of Campbell. The PFAS levels in more than 40 wells are so high, the water is unsafe to drink, cook with, or use to brush your teeth. 

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat says the chemical companies, not the city, are responsible for the contamination and clean-up.  Kabat’s attorneys says the companies have known since as far back as the 1960′s that the PFAS compounds they used to produce firefighting foam are toxic, don’t break down easily, and pose a significant risk to human health. 

This fall, the city tested for and found PFAS in more than 100 private, Town of Campbell wells. The City of La Crosse is providing bottled water to roughly 40 families with the highest levels of PFAS. But; they will need a safe and permanent source of water, whether that’s through an in-home filter or water piped in from the City of La Crosse.  Homeowners want the city to pay all of those costs and for any potential loss of property value. More than 200 homeowners have hired an Attorney Tim Jacobson, who put the city on notice, they may sue the city. Mayor Kabat says the foam manufacturers are responsible for the contamination and they, not the city, should pay to clean it up. “We’re all in this together locally. These manufacturers knew about the dangers these chemicals presented and yet did nothing about that for a long time. And; we are all now paying the price for that.”, says Kabat.

the two firms representing he City of La Crosse are also representing 100 other municipalities and utilities that provide water. Attorney Erin Dickinson tells News 8 Now they’ve been litigating against the foam manufacturers for about two years. There is  no end in sight. 

 Even if the city wins it’s case, it could be years before the city receives a settlement and it’s not 100% clear if or how the city would use that money to benefit Town of Campbell homeowners. 

Attorney  Jacobson, who represents 225 Town of Campbell homeowners, released a statement after the city filed suit.  It reads in part: “The city has refused to pay for well testing in neighborhoods around the La Crosse airport that clearly are contaminated with PFAS chemicals, complaining about the costs of doing so.” Jacobson goes onto say, “Now that the city has hired a huge New York law firm to recover environmental investigation costs from the chemical companies, the city no longer has an excuse to avoid testing private wells.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.