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6 Landmark Lawsuits Involving Water Contamination Catastrophes

Water is a necessity of life. It’s also essential for good health and can help us live longer, healthier lives. But when water gets contaminated with dangerous chemicals, that can be disastrous for your health and even deadly. 

At least 5% of the large cities in the U.S. get to drink water contaminated with runoff from agricultural, residential, and industrial lands. In this article, we’ll examine some of the most high-profile cases where tainted water has resulted in severe illness or death among residents.

How Water Contamination Can Be Hazardous

Water contamination can be hazardous to your health. It’s not just a matter of drinking tainted water and getting sick. It’s also about the long-term effects that will affect you for years. Water contamination can be caused by many different things, including:

  • Pesticides and herbicides that are used on crops or lawns nearby. According to an NCBI article, pesticides are most likely to runoff from the soil surface after applying 0.25 to 0.85 cm depth.
  • Industrial chemicals from factories or manufacturing plants.
  • Heavy metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic leach into groundwater from abandoned mines.

Infamous Water Contamination Lawsuits in History

While there are many water contamination lawsuits in history, here are some of the biggest ones.

Flint Water Crisis

The Flint Water Crisis began in 2014 when the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This change caused lead to leach into the drinking water, which was not treated with corrosion control chemicals. The lack of treatment caused lead pipes to rust and break apart, leading to contaminated tap water throughout Flint.

The crisis has been ongoing since then, as residents still don’t know how much damage their bodies have suffered from exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin. In fact, recent data shows that 1 in 5 adults living in Flint are estimated to have PTSD, even five years after the water crisis began. Many also struggle financially because they can’t afford bottled water or filters.

To get compensation for their problems, some have filed lawsuits against government officials for negligence. On the other hand, others have been forced out of their homes due to high contamination levels.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit

The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit is perhaps the most well-known of these cases. It began in 1985 when the Marine Corps admitted to contaminating drinking water with chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE), for decades. This chemical was used to clean weapons and machinery at the base, and it leached into wells near those facilities, where Marines drank from them regularly.

The government knew about this contamination as early as 1984 but did not warn anyone until 1987 or 1988. By that point, hundreds, if not thousands, of people, had been exposed to dangerous levels of TCE over long periods. Many were children whose bodies were still developing when exposed to it at Camp Lejeune.

Congress has created a settlement budget to help those facing health and other problems after exposure to contaminated water at the camp. The Camp Lejeune water contamination settlement amounts can vary primarily based on the troubles you have faced. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the payouts may account for $6.7 billion.

According to TorHoerman Law, the settlement amount can be anywhere between $10,000 to $500,000. This will vary based on the strength of your case, primarily the severity of the disease you are having due to contamination exposure.

Love Canal Water Contamination Lawsuit

The Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. It’s best known for being the site of the worst chemical contamination disaster in U.S. history. In 1978, Hooker Chemical Company buried toxic waste in the abandoned canal.

It covered it with dirt and clay, but they didn’t do a good job hiding it. Over time, as many as 21,000 tons of chemicals leaked into surrounding groundwater, contaminating nearly 100 homes and making hundreds of people sick with cancer or birth defects.

In response to public outcry about this environmental catastrophe, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980, known more commonly as Superfund. This act established funds for cleaning up abandoned industrial sites like Love Canal and allocated $1 billion annually until 1986 for future cleanups under certain conditions.

However, these funds have been depleted due to their limited lifespan and high demand from communities across America who also want their toxic sites cleaned up. The 1,300-odd residents of the area have already agreed to a $20 million settlement after a long-running lawsuit. 

Erin Brockovich and Pacific Gas and Electric Water Contamination Lawsuit

In August 1996, Erin Brockovich filed a lawsuit over water contamination in Hinkley, California, against Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The case became famous because of the resulting settlement. PG&E agreed to pay $333 million in damages and upgrade its system to prevent future pollution.

The lawsuit was brought by residents who claimed they had developed cancer because their drinking water was tainted by hexavalent chromium, an industrial chemical used by PG&E in its cooling towers at the time. In total, 2,800 people were affected by this contamination. Many had suffered from illnesses like kidney damage or bladder cancer due to long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium in their drinking water system.

Even though no direct link between these illnesses and hexavalent chromium could be scientifically proven, Erin Brockovich proved herself an effective advocate for those affected by her legal representation during this landmark case. This resulted in numerous improvements regarding public health regulations regarding environmental issues throughout California, especially when dealing with large corporations like PG&E Company.

DuPont and C8 Contamination

DuPont has a dark history of contaminating the water supply. In West Virginia and Ohio, they polluted the water supply with C8, which caused severe health problems in those exposed to it. Some died from kidney cancer and other diseases linked to this contamination, while others were born with birth defects due to their parents’ exposure during pregnancy.

While DuPont was found guilty of negligence in 2013, they disagreed with the decision and appealed it through appellate courts until finally losing at the Supreme Court level in 2018. Now they are facing around 3,500 lawsuits from people affected by this contamination and suffer as a result.

However, despite admitting guilt in some areas earlier this year, DuPont maintains that there is no link between C8 exposure and disease development among humans, even though independent studies have shown otherwise.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was the largest ever in U.S. waters, resulting in extensive damage to wildlife and fishing industries. Almost 11 million gallons of crude oil were accidentally released into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The cleanup efforts were made, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the federal government filed suit against ExxonMobil for punitive damages related to the environmental catastrophe.

The case was settled when Exxon decided to pay in three different categories. The company paid $25 million in the criminal plea agreement, $100 million in criminal restitution, and $900 million in civil settlement.


These are just a few examples of the many landmark lawsuits for water contamination. As we’ve seen, these cases have resulted in massive payouts and policy changes that help protect against future contamination. But decades later, we still have work to do as individuals and communities if we want clean water for ourselves and our children.

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