Johnson Controls to pay $17.5M to Town of Peshtigo residents in PFAS class action suit

    Firefighters use a foam product to suppress a blaze. Photo from National PFAS Contamination Coalition, licensed under Creative Commons
    Firefighters use a foam product to suppress a blaze. Photo from National PFAS Contamination Coalition, licensed under Creative Commons

    Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls has agreed to pay $17.5 million to families living in a portion of the Town of Peshtigo in Marinette County who were exposed to PFAS chemicals from the company’s firefighting foam training site in the area.

    The class-action settlement was announced Tuesday. It’s part of a group about 500 cases that have been consolidated in federal court in North Carolina relating to contamination from and exposure to firefighting foams containing PFAS, the abbreviation for per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances.

    In addition to firefighting foams that are the subject of the settlement, PFAS, so-called forever chemicals, have been used in thousands of industrial and consumer products and have been linked to certain cancers and other illnesses.

    The Town of Peshtigo case involves people who live or used to live in an area just south of the city of Marinette and bordering a Tyco Fire Products training facility, one of the largest PFAS contamination sites in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Plaintiffs in the lawsuit charge that runoff from firefighting foam used at the training site contaminated wells in the area with PFAS chemicals. Tyco is now part of Johnson Controls.

    The settlement covers an area about three square miles with nearly 300 homes, accounting for up to about 1,200 residents, according to an estimate in the settlement filing. To qualify for a share of the settlement, residents or former residents have to have lived for at least a year in the designated area between Jan. 1, 1965 and Dec. 31, 2020.

    The $17.5 million settlement amount covers property damage, exposure and personal injury claims. The company, which does not admit fault in the settlement, says the figure doesn’t include the cost of providing bottled water, treatment systems and a connection to municipal water supplies to replace the well water, which Johnson Controls and Tyco are funding separately.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.