Lawsuit claims drinking water at Ocala college made workers sick

High levels of fire retardant foam chemicals found in water

OCALA, Fla. – Six workers at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala have filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming the drinking water made them very sick.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it conducted tests on the drinking water at the site on NW Gainesville Road in August, and found chemicals used in fire retardant were present.

The chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were found in ground water samples earlier this year in small concentrations in Brevard County.

The same chemicals were found by the DEP at the Fire College in August.

According to the DEP, the chemicals are deemed potentially unsafe if they're found at levels higher than 70 parts per trillion.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Ocala, the chemicals were found at the Fire College at levels of 270,000 parts per trillion.

Five of the plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit they now have thyroid disease as a result of the exposure, and one of them claims she has end-stage kidney disease.

News 6 found out the Florida Department of Health is now getting involved.

The agency said investigators have identified three other properties near the Fire College where drinking water has also tested positive for the chemicals, including one home.

The agency said it is trying to sample the water at more than 90 additional properties, but some of the residents have not responded.

The lawsuit was filed against the manufacturers of the fire retardant foam, including 3M and Tyco Fire Products.

"We are aware of the class action lawsuit filed today and are in the process of reviewing the filing," said Fraser Engerman, spokesman for Tyco. "Tyco and Chemguard acted appropriately and responsibly in connection with products containing PFOA, including aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs).  AFFFs have prevented catastrophic fires and saved many lives, which is why the U.S. military and firefighting professionals have chosen to use them for decades and continue to use them today."

3M has not returned requests for a comment.

Marion County health officials are asking residents nearby to have their water tested.

Call 352-644-2623 for additional information.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.