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UPDATED: Legal action taken on French Island PFAS contamination issue

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - A pair of legal efforts are now in the early stages both with the goal of compensating French Island residents impacted by groundwater contamination.

The La Crosse Common Council voted unanimously Thursday night to retain a pair of law firms to move forward with a proposed lawsuit against PFAS chemical manufacturers. The approval given utilizes the legal services of Crueger & Dickinson, LLC and Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC.

Crueger & Dickinson is a firm based in Whitefish Bay, noted on its website for taking the lead on a national suit against opioid manufacturers. New York-based Napoli Shkolnik carries an endorsement from the Wisconsin Rural Water Association.

The action comes after a local attorney representing nearly 130 French Island residents has served pages of notices to the city of La Crosse for playing a role in water contamination.

The French Island residents claim that their private wells have been tainted with PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals that have been linked to cancer and birth defects. Chemicals in firefighting foam used in training sessions that originated at the La Crosse Regional Airport and moved downstream into the private wells.

Tim Jacobson, an attorney at Fitzpatrick, Skemp & Butler, is representing the residents. He believes that even more French Island residents have been affected by PFAS water contamination but they just don't know it yet.

"It's so tragic that so many people have been impacted by this pollution. It's a very frustrating and scary situation for these people. We just really hope the city will act as cooperatively as possible so that we can find a resolution to these issues and get people clean water moving forward," said Jacobson.

The French Island residents who filed claims are asking for a permanent supply of clean water. They would also like to receive compensation for loss of property value. Residents who have medical issues linked to drinking the PFAS-contaminated water are also seeking compensation.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

"At tonight's Common Council meeting, there is a request for approving legislation to file suit against the manufacturers of these harmful chemicals. I would strongly encourage impacted residents to join forces with our effort and there will be more information to come on this work soon."

Jacobson had earlier said in response to the combining of the two groups in a legal case, “I am unaware of any mechanism through which the city could have legal standing to assert claims against chemical companies in a way that would provide any direct benefit to citizens of another municipality. It seems disingenuous to me that the mayor is suggesting that Town of Campbell residents will somehow receive a remedy as a result of the city suing the manufacturers. If the city recovers money from third parties, I can only assume the city will pocket the money to benefit itself.”

Mayor Kabat responded, "I do not understand why attorney Jacobson is trying to sow division and confusion between the residents of Campbell and the City of La Crosse, as we are all victims of these manufactured chemicals and have been negatively impacted."

Allante Walker

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