WHAT WE DO
As a “private public interest” law firm, AltmanNewman uses available state and federal legal tools to protect public health and the environment. We resolve environmental cases on behalf of private and public clients (including individuals & families, neighborhood groups, environmental organizations, businesses, water and solid waste associations, non-profits, and state, regional or local governments) seeking to prevent ongoing pollution exposure and to obtain soil, water, and waste cleanups. Below is a description of the types of cases that our firm handles.
WATER, PROPERTY & GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION
Seeping landfills and industrial lagoons, contaminated soil, contaminated river sediment, air pollution, and many other types of pollution can contaminate soils and groundwater on neighboring properties. AltmanNewman has successfully represented property owners in citizen suits to recover money damages for loss of use of enjoyment, and loss of use of property resulting from seeping landfills, contaminated soil and river sediments, and air pollution. Because citizen suit provisions do not allow recovery of private damages, we often combine citizen suits with negligence, nuisance, and trespass claims. From there, our firm works with experts, including hydrogeologists, environmental engineers, and real estate professionals, to evaluate the extent and impact of the contamination, and then litigates in federal and state courts to recover property damages.
PFAS, THE TOXIC ‘FOREVER CHEMICALS’
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of thousands of manmade chemicals used to make water-, stain- and grease-repellant coatings used in a wide range of consumer products and industrial applications. PFAS are used in cookware, stain- and water-repellant clothing and carpets, food packaging, cleaning products, cosmetics, personal care products, and more. Facilities that manufacture and process PFAS, and airports and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS contamination in the United States. PFAS have also been found entering the food chain through meat and dairy products from PFAS-contaminated fertilizer sludge that polluted farm soil and groundwater, forcing some farms to close. Most people have been exposed to PFAS, and 99 percent of Americans have PFAS in their blood. PFAS are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down, accumulate in the human body, and remain in the environment – and people – for decades.
The use of two PFAS, PFOA (also known as C8) and PFOS, has been phased out in the United States, because the compounds have caused widespread soil, groundwater and drinking water contamination. Yet the compound used by one manufacturer to replace PFOA has now caused widespread contamination of the Cape Fear River and drinking water in North Carolina, raising new health concerns. Of the more than 9,000 PFAS compounds, more than 600 are currently in use in the United States. PFAS have been linked to several serious health conditions in humans, including cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low infant birth weights, and effects on the immune system.
Although the US EPA first learned of the health hazards posed by PFAS more than 20 years ago, the agency has yet to set enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water, food, food pack500aging, and other consumer products. In the absence of federal action, states across the country that are grappling with PFAS contamination have adopted a broad range of measures to set their own standards and limit PFAS uses. Current EPA Administrator Michael Regan established the EPA’s Council on PFAS in April 2021. The council developed the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, announced in October 2021, which identifies key actions and timelines for agency actions to confront PFAS contamination nationwide through 2024. EPA is expected to propose final regulations for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water in 2022 or 2023.
AltmanNewman’s work resulted in long-term treatment of a heavily contaminated water supply and the first judicial finding of liability in the United States for PFAS contamination. We continue to monitor the emerging science around PFAS and are well-positioned to assist communities, environmental groups, and drinking water suppliers facing PFAS contamination.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
While numerous federal, state, and local laws and regulations provide for the protection of the environment and public health, communities of color and low-income, Native American and Appalachian communities are exposed to alarmingly disproportionate levels of pollution from hazardous or toxic waste landfills and factories that emit high levels of dangerous pollutants. Many of these facilities also emit huge amounts of the compounds that drive climate change, and low-income and minority communities often lack critical infrastructure investments that leave them more vulnerable to climate-related disasters. These communities continue to bear the overwhelming share of the burden of toxic pollution, historical underinvestment, and climate change impacts.
AltmanNewman is committed to helping communities that are fighting environmental injustice. We can assist with navigating procedures designed to protect communities, including litigation, or participation in the regulatory process by:
- helping communities understand and effectively participate in the planning and permitting phases of projects that may adversely impact their community and local environment.
- providing information on and assistance with obtaining grants or other funding for hand-held air monitoring devices or other “citizen science” tools.
- assisting with challenging permit decisions or regulations that will adversely impact a community.
- petitioning government under federal laws or filing state or federal litigation to achieve environmental justice.
Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys:
- The same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and
- Equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
In 1994, after years of hard-fought battles by grassroots groups exposed the inequities in environmental protection in communities of color, impoverished, and Native American communities, President Bill Clinton issued the first Executive Order directing federal agencies to develop a strategy for implementing EJ. States and local communities may or may not have similar laws, regulations, or directives requiring that EJ be considered.
In 2021 President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad that advances several several new EJ and climate justice initiatives, and in September 2022 U.S. EPA launched its new national office dedicated to advancing environmental justice and civil rights.
AIR POLLUTION AND AIR NUISANCE
Many Americans live in communities where air pollution poses a threat to their health and property. This is often the result of facilities refusing to reduce their emissions of air pollution. Of course, the impacted communities bear the brunt by being exposed to pollution known to aggravate heart ailments, lung disease, and asthma. Such air pollution is particularly harmful to young children. The air pollution also often forces people to reduce, or even cease, outdoor activities that they enjoy, such as gardening, watching their children play outside, or just sitting on their deck or patio to enjoy a cup of coffee or read the paper. While pollution can come in the form of large, visible clouds of pollution, it is the pollution that cannot be seen which is the most dangerous because it becomes lodged deep within the lungs.
Our firm uses legal tools, including federal and state air laws, to seek court orders requiring the polluter to apply pollution controls to abate the nuisance and to prevent further damage to health and property. We are also often able to secure payment of money to compensate for the loss of use and enjoyment of property and discomfort resulting from the nuisance.
DRINKING WATER POLLUTION
Safe drinking water is essential to health and everyday functioning. Unfortunately, drinking water supplies are under constant threat and are becoming ever scarcer. Private individuals and water suppliers whose drinking water has been contaminated often need legal representation to ensure that their rights are protected and that they are compensated for any harm that has been imposed or is threatened. Our firm has been involved in precedent-setting cases involving highly contaminated drinking water and has fought to secure effective alternate water and long-term treatment, and to ensure that those responsible were held accountable. See more in our representative Cases. Through these efforts, we have developed substantial knowledge of the environmental, scientific and legal issues involved in bringing a successful contaminated drinking water case.
SEWER POLLUTION, INCLUDING BASEMENT BACKUPS & SEWER OVERFLOWS
Our firm’s work led to the first-of-its-kind sewer back-up program in Hamilton County, Ohio designed to compensate victims of sewer backup events. Due to decades of experience working on illegal sewer overflows, we are intimately familiar with the process of assessing the causes of sewage backups and gathering the evidence necessary to determine whether the backup was the fault of a governmental entity. If you believe you may have been impacted by a potential sewage backup, we are available to evaluate litigation options. In particular, if you are a resident of Hamilton County, Ohio, we are available to evaluate whether you can pursue a claim under the Sewer Backup Program or should instead consider a claim in state court.
UNLAWFUL ACTIONS, PERMITS & RULES
Our firm has helped private citizens and groups challenge unlawful regulatory actions, including environmental permits for landfills and administrative rules. Through the years we have successfully challenged such administrative actions by guiding citizen participation in the administrative process, working with experts to draft written comments, representing clients at public hearings, and appealing permit decisions before administrative boards and in state and federal courts. For example, we have:
(1) litigated the overturning of Ohio EPA’s permit decision for a landfill on behalf of a community-based environmental organization; and
(2) achieved the reversal and remand, on appeal, of a state air toxics rule, thereby requiring the agency to regulate additional potentially harmful chemicals.
CHEMICAL RIGHT-TO-KNOW, CHEMICAL RELEASE & EXPLOSION
AltmanNewman has represented individuals and communities that have experienced chemical explosions, chemical releases, and their aftermath. As lead counsel in a class action on behalf of the Columbus area community that suffered two major explosions from a nearby Georgia-Pacific facility, we secured compensation for class members, a medical monitoring program, and independent experts’ review of and recommendations to improve the facility’s operations. We had previously obtained money and other class-wide relief for families and property owners from a wide area around a Cincinnati area BASF plant, which exploded in 1990.
We have also used the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (“EPCRA”), which was enacted in 1986, to help communities obtain important chemical risk information. The legislation was passed in the wake of a catastrophic toxic chemical release at an industrial facility in Bhopal, India, which killed or injured thousands of people in the surrounding community. EPCRA and its implementing regulations require owners and operators of facilities that store, use, or release hazardous chemicals in excess of threshold quantities to report information on those substances to federal, state, local emergency planning and response agencies, and to the public at large.
AltmanNewman is ready to represent communities that are threatened by environmental hazards from chemical explosions, releases, and accidents.