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Donavan v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

September 5, 2017



          Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge.


         This action is one of several in this District stemming from the contamination of groundwater with perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) in the Village of Hoosick Falls, New York. Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint”) ¶¶ 1-2. In his Complaint, plaintiff James Donavan alleges that defendants Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. contaminated the Village's groundwater by discharging PFOA from one or more manufacturing facilities they operated within the Village. E.g., id. ¶¶ 1-7. As a result of this contamination, Donavan claims that the drinking water of Hoosick Falls became nonpotable, causing a “significant decline in value” of the home he owns with his wife. Id. ¶ 145. Additionally, he alleges that consumption of PFOA-contaminated water has caused him to suffer serious health problems. E.g., id. ¶¶ 126-27.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Donavan's property damage claims for failure to state a claim. Dkt. Nos. 22 (“Motion”), 22-1 (“Memorandum”). Donovan opposes the Motion, and has moved for leave to amend his Complaint if it is dismissed. Dkt. No. 28 (“Opposition”). For the reasons that follow, both motions are granted.


         The following facts are taken from the allegations in the Complaint, which are assumed to be true when deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Bryant v. N.Y. State Educ. Dep't, 692 F.3d 202, 210 (2d Cir. 2012).

         A. PFOA

         PFOA is a man-made chemical that was originally manufactured by the 3M Company. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20. It has been used “to make fabrics water and stain resistant, ” and “was a key component in the manufacture of Teflon” and “the production of Gore-Tex.” Id. ¶¶ 23-25.

         According to Donavan, “[t]here are a number of health risks associated with chronic exposure to PFOA, and these risks are present even when PFOA is ingested at, seemingly, very low levels.” Id. ¶ 28. In fact, “PFOA has the potential to be more of a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time.” Id. ¶ 29. Donavan alleges that PFOA exposure is “associated with increased risk of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.” Id. ¶ 33.

         In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued a health advisory for drinking water with levels of PFOA over seventy parts per trillion (or ppt). Id. ¶ 37. The health advisory level (70 ppt) suggests that individuals should avoid ingesting drinking-water with greater levels of PFOA and is based on the EPA's “review of the best available peer-reviewed studies at the time.” Id. “The EPA noted that peer-reviewed studies indicate that ‘exposure to PFOA over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).'” Id. ¶ 38.

         B. The Contamination of Hoosick Falls

         Hoosick Falls is a village of approximately 3, 500 residents. Id. ¶ 61. Since around 1955, manufacturing facilities in and around the Village used PFOA. Id. ¶ 45. Donavan alleges that a factory at 14 McCaffrey Street is the primary source of Hoosick Falls's PFOA contamination. Id. ¶¶ 4, 39. In 1986, the McCaffrey Street facility came to be owned by AlliedSignal, which later adopted Honeywell's name after a merger. Id. ¶¶ 14, 41. Saint-Gobain acquired the facility in 1999, and owns it to this day. Id. ¶ 42.

         Defendants manufactured water- and stain-resistant fabric at the McCaffrey Street site, applying a PFOA solution to the fabric in large trays. Id. ¶¶ 43-47. Defendants' employees recovered most of this solution at the end of each shift. Id. ¶ 47. However, employees also washed the trays and poured the resulting discharge down floor drains in the facility. Id. ¶ 48. As a result of this practice, PFOA flowed into the soil and ultimately the aquifer. Id.

         Saint-Gobain and Honeywell also used solid PFOA to manufacture Teflon-coated materials and other products in large ovens at the McCaffrey Street site. Id. ¶¶ 51-55. In connection with this activity, Defendants' employees again discharged PFOA down storm drains, causing it to migrate into the soil and aquifer. Id. ¶ 58. Donavan also alleges that Defendants “discharged PFOA into the environment in other ways.” Id. ¶ 59.

         Approximately 95% of Hoosick Falls residents receive drinking water from the Village's municipal water system, which gathers its water from production wells, one of which is approximately 500 yards from the McCaffrey site. Id. ¶¶ 63-66. Other residents receive drinking water from private wells. Id. ¶ 72.

         In June 2015, the Village conducted several tests showing high levels of PFOA in its municipal wells. Id. ¶¶ 68-71. These tests showed PFOA concentrations ranging from 151 to 662 ppt. Id. ¶ 71. As noted above, the EPA has advised against using water supplies with concentrations greater than 70 ppt. Id. ¶ 37. Tests of private wells revealed PFOA concentrations of some private wells as high as 252 ppt. Id. ¶ 73.

         In November 2015, the EPA recommended that Hoosick Falls residents use an alternative water source rather than drink or cook with contaminated groundwater. Id. ¶ 74. It repeated this recommendation in December 2015. Id. ¶ 76. Shortly thereafter, Saint-Gobain began to provide free bottled water to Village residents and agreed to fund the installation of a filter system on the municipal supply. Id. ¶ 77.

         On January 14, 2016, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) requested that the EPA investigate the origin of the contamination and add Hoosick Falls to the National Priorities List under the federal Superfund program. Id. ¶¶ 78-79. On January 27, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state agencies to designate the McCaffrey Street facility as a state Superfund site, and announced that the State was classifying PFOA as a hazardous substance. Id. ΒΆΒΆ 82-83. The next day, the EPA recommended that all homeowners with private wells drink bottled water if their wells had PFOA ...

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