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Written By: Robert King, Esq.
Legal Review By: Mike Stag, Esq.
The Ellsworth AFB Water Contamination Lawsuit is an active lawsuit
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Ellsworth Air Force Base Water Contamination Lawsuit Overview

Ellsworth Air Force Base originated as Rapid City Army Air Base in 1942. It was home to training operations for the B-17 bomber crews and became a permanent facility in 1948 under the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. After the death of General Richard E. Ellsworth, the Wing’s commander, the base was renamed Ellsworth Air Force Base in his honor. Throughout its history, the base has supported aircraft and missile operations and currently hosts the 28th Bomb Wing. 

Ellsworth AFB covers around 4,858 acres of land in Meade and Pennington counties in South Dakota. It has a population of 15,900 people including 3,000 military personnel, 3,500 family members, 8,100 retirees, and 1,000 civilians. Throughout its lifetime, military activity at Ellsworth has caused air, groundwater, and soil contamination. One of the largest contaminants of concern, PFAS, is a group of chemicals found in firefighting foam (Aqueous Film Forming Foam or “AFFF”) that was frequently used at Air Force bases for training exercises and to put out fires caused by plane crashes and other incidents. If consumed, PFAS can cause testicular cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, and several other life-threatening conditions. If you’ve been diagnosed with a PFAS-related condition, you may be eligible to file a claim for compensation.

Ellsworth Air Force Base Water Contamination Lawsuit Updates

May 2024 – More Veterans File Ellsworth AFB Toxic Exposure Lawsuits

Over the past couple of years, there has been a growing number of toxic exposure lawsuits filed against PFAS product manufacturers. Many of these cases involve veterans who served at Ellsworth Air Force Base where TCE, PFAS, and other chemicals from military activities led to diagnoses of cancer, ulcerative colitis, and other conditions. 

King Law is now reviewing cases where individuals were exposed to toxins at Ellsworth and other military bases. We’re dedicated to representing military veterans, their families, and other residents who have been impacted by water contamination and are now seeking compensation to help with treatment costs and more. 

April 2024 – First Enforceable PFAS Limit Confirms Long-Standing Safety Concerns

While the dangers of PFAS have been known since the 1970s, there have not been enforceable limits in place until April of 2024. The EPA’s original Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOA/PFOS (two types of PFAS) was 70 ppt. However, the EPA has since set an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level of 4 ppt for PFOA and 4 ppt for PFOS. Some PFOS/PFOA levels at Ellsworth AFB have tested over 4,600 ppt. The EPA’s new limits confirm widespread concerns that the PFAS impact has been much larger than early samples suggested.

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History of Toxic Exposure at Ellsworth Air Force Base

Ellsworth Air Force Base has dealt with water contamination since the 1990s. While TCE was the largest priority for cleanup efforts, 2016 brought PFAS contamination to light. Decisions to cleanup PFAS in water were largely made based on exceedances of the EPA’s 70 ppt advisory. However, the new enforceable limit is 4 ppt for PFOA and 4 ppt for PFOS, which is much lower than the original LHA. 

2023 – Air Force Starts Transitioning to Safer Firefighting Foam Alternative 

In September 2023, a fluorine-free firefighting foam was presented by the Department of Defense (DoD). According to the latest PFAS updates from Ellsworth AFB, “the Air Force has started the transition process.” The Air Force has also removed AFFF tanks from hangar fire suppression systems, used the foam in double-lined pits to avoid soil and groundwater contamination, and treated any uncontained AFFF releases as a hazardous spill for rapid cleanup. 

2020 – Groundwater PFAS Levels Near Ellsworth AFB Test More Than 60 Times Lifetime Health Advisory 

In an effort to confirm TCE contamination was addressed in groundwater just east of the base, the Air Force took a series of water samples. PFAS levels were above the LHA in 25 of the 30 wells with PFOS concentrations as high as 4,680 ppt and PFOA concentrations as high as 320 ppt. 

2019 – Air Force Seeks to Identify Solution to PFAS Drinking Water at Ellsworth 

The Air Force contracted a company in 2019 to find drinking water alternatives for residents with water samples testing above the PFAS LHA. The plan for a proposed alternative was set to be provided to the EPA and South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2020. 

2018-2019 – Off-Base Investigation Finds High Levels of PFAS In Resident Wells

An investigation into off-base PFAS contamination that had migrated from Ellsworth was conducted September 2018-March 2019. Of the 112 private drinking wells that were sampled, 22 had PFAS levels above the LHA and 91 residents were given alternate drinking water. 

2016-2017 – PFAS First Identified at Ellsworth AFB

The Air Force first discovered PFAS groundwater contamination at Ellsworth AFB in 2016. The base stopped using PFAS-containing firefighting foam the same year but the chemicals had already entered groundwater and migrated to surrounding communities. In 2017, the Air Force sampled wells east, south, and west of the base. They found 30 properties with PFAS levels exceeding the 70 ppt LHA.

Ellsworth Air Force Base Water Contamination Map

Our Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination shows the base layout and location of known chemical plumes. The visual also highlights key areas that were identified through Superfund site assessment and remediation efforts. Most areas of concern are fire training sites, landfills, and storage areas. This is where products like PFAS-containing firefighting foam were used, stored, and disposed of, leading to groundwater contamination. 

Contaminants Found in Ellsworth Air Force Base Drinking Water

Ellsworth Air Force Base has struggled with dozens of different contaminants in soil and groundwater. Some of the largest chemicals of concern have included benzene, TCE, and PFAS. Long-term exposure to these chemicals increases health risks and often the severity of illnesses. 

Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that were used in firefighting foam for decades. This foam was used to maintain and put out fires that would occur during training, plane crashes, and other fire emergency situations. In many cases, it would be sprayed directly on the ground, causing the chemicals to seep into the soil and groundwater. Drinking water with PFAS can cause:

  • Birth defects
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Changes in liver enzymes 
  • Decreased vaccine effectiveness
  • Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Lowered immune response 
  • Multiple-myeloma
  • Kidney cancer 
  • Pancreatic cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Reproductive issues
  • Testicular cancer 
  • Thyroid cancer 
  • Thyroid disease 
  • Ulcerative colitis

Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS build up in the body over time and don’t break down. So the longer military personnel were exposed, the higher their risk of developing a life-threatening condition. 

Benzene

Groundwater and soil at fire training areas and landfills at Ellsworth AFB have been flagged by the EPA for benzene contamination. There are many different symptoms of benzene exposure that can emerge right away, such as dizziness, sleepiness, irregular heartbeat, and convulsions. Long-term health effects are much more severe, including: 

  • Anemia
  • Decrease in red blood cells 
  • Decreased immune function
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Reproductive issues 
  • Leukemia

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chemical found in degreasers and solvents often used when repairing and maintaining equipment like military planes. TCE contamination has been an issue at Ellsworth Air Force base since the 1990s with a known connection to

  • Cervical cancer 
  • Cancer of the lymphatic system
  • Heart disease 
  • Kidney cancer 
  • Liver cancer 
  • Nervous system problems 
  • Neurological problems 
  • Reproductive issues 

Current Water Quality at Ellsworth Air Force Base

Ellsworth Air Force Base still has contaminated water. Permanent efforts to provide safe water sources faced setbacks due to waterline permit issues in 2022 with construction now planned to start in 2024. Over the past decade, veterans at the base, their family members, and residents on and near the base have consumed contaminated water and either have developed or are at risk of developing a range of illnesses. 

Water Treatment Efforts at Ellsworth Air Force Base

The Air Force has been working to provide residents with safe drinking water for the past several years, while leveraging treatment systems and new waterline plans. They’ve provided bottled water to residents with PFAS-contaminated water and continue to monitor water samples on- and off-base. In addition, a remedial investigation is underway at the base to understand the true extent of PFAS contamination.

Health Risks Linked to Drinking Water at Ellsworth AFB

Consuming water contaminated with PFAS can cause the following illnesses:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer 
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma 
  • Kidney cancer 
  • Leukemia 
  • Liver cancer 
  • Multiple myeloma 
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 
  • Pancreatic cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Testicular cancer 
  • Thyroid cancer 
  • Thyroid disease 
  • Ulcerative colitis 

Our law firm is currently evaluating cases where individuals have been diagnosed with:

Long-term exposure or high amounts of exposure can increase health risks. If you develop any symptoms of consuming contaminated water, seek medical care as soon as possible.

Eligibility Criteria for Ellsworth AFB Water Contamination Lawsuit

If you’re interested in filing a water contamination lawsuit after exposure at Ellsworth AFB, you must meet the following eligibility requirements: 

  1. You were exposed to a toxin like PFAS for at least six months. 
  2. You were diagnosed with an illness related to your toxic exposure.

Our law firm is currently evaluating cases where individuals have been diagnosed with:

  • Bladder Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple-Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Ulcerative Colitis

King Law offers a no-obligation, free consultation where we can review your case and confirm if you’re eligible for compensation. Reach out today. 

Ellsworth AFB Water Contamination Settlement Amounts

We anticipate Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination settlements to range from $30,000 to $500,000 with an average settlement amount of $250,000. Payouts vary based on the specifics of each case. Some may range $30,000-$75,000 while others may be closer to $1,000,000. Details such as when you were exposed, the age you were diagnosed, and the severity of your diagnosis can impact your compensation award. 

How to File an Ellsworth AFB Water Contamination Lawsuit

To file an Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination claim, you’ll typically follow these steps: 

  1. Schedule an initial consultation with an attorney with experience handling similar claims and can build a strong case on your behalf. 
  2. Gather evidence of your toxic exposure at Ellsworth AFB and details of your associated diagnosis. Evidence is crucial to the success of your case. 
  3. Your attorney will build your case and file your claim with the appropriate court. They may reach out with additional questions, so ensure you’re available to support. 
  4. Your attorney will help you decide whether a settlement or trial verdict is best based on your situation. Settlements often guarantee a payout and are quicker to resolve, though verdicts may pay higher with the risk of no compensation. 
  5. Successful claims will provide compensation that you can use for medical bills, loss of income, and other damages. 

To learn more about your legal options, contact us today.

Evidence to Support Your Ellsworth Air Force Base Claim

Types of evidence that could solidify your Ellsworth Air Force Base claim and right to compensation include: 

  • Proof of diagnosis: Any medical records, appointment history, treatment plans, and other details related to your diagnosis can support your claim. 
  • Proof of time at Ellsworth AFB: Military records, directives, assignment details, and discharge paperwork can help show how long you were stationed at the base during a time of known contamination. 
  • Proof of toxic exposure: Water quality reports, press releases, military communications, bloodwork results, and any other records will help prove that you were exposed to a toxin and for how long.
  • Other information: Expert testimonies, environmental studies, site assessments, and other reliable sources can help prove that your diagnosis is a direct result of your toxic exposure.

Statute of Limitations for Ellsworth AFB Water Contamination Claims

To be eligible for compensation, you must file a claim within a certain timeframe, called a statute of limitations. Statutes vary based on the type of claim and the state in which you file. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to avoid missing your state’s deadline and losing your opportunity for recovering damages.

Ellsworth Air Force Base Water Contamination Lawyers

Filing a legal claim can be a complex process. Luckily, there are lawyers who have experience handling water contamination cases specifically. At King Law, we know what it takes to represent military veterans and their families who have been impacted by toxic contamination. Our resources, expertise, and background allows us to build strong, successful cases, all while offering an unmatched level of compassion and support throughout the entire process. If you’re trying to learn more about your legal options, don’t hesitate. Call or send us a message today. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Looking for quick answers to frequently asked questions? Learn more about water contamination at Ellsworth Air Force Base and what it entails to file a claim. 

Is Ellsworth Air Force Base water safe to drink?
Ellsworth Air Force Base water is not safe and affected residents have been provided with alternate sources of water as the Air Force strives to find a permanent remedy.
What are the toxins in Ellsworth Air Force Base?
The main toxins at Ellsworth Air Force Base include PFAS, benzene, and TCE, all of which can cause different types of cancers.
Is Ellsworth Air Force Base a Superfund site?
Yes, Ellsworth Air Force Base is a Superfund site.
What is the lawsuit about Ellsworth Air Force Base?
Those who have been diagnosed with illnesses related to drinking toxic water at Ellsworth Air Force Base are now filing water contamination claims to recover compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and other damages.
What are the environmental issues at Ellsworth Air Force Base?
Military activity at Ellsworth AFB, including the use of firefighting foam, has led to soil and groundwater contamination impacting individuals at the base and in surrounding communities.
What are the deadlines to file an Ellsworth Air Force Base lawsuit?
You must abide by the state’s statutes of limitations where you file and the circumstances of your case can impact your filing deadlines. Speak with an attorney as soon as possible to find out your required time to file.
What health conditions are associated with Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination?
Drinking water that’s contaminated with PFAS at Ellsworth Air Force Base may cause kidney cancer, bladder cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer, ulcerative colitis, and several other illnesses.
What evidence do I need for my Ellsworth Air Force Base lawsuit?
The evidence needed to file an Ellsworth AFB lawsuit includes proof of your exposure at the base, proof of your diagnosis, and other details that support how toxic contamination led to your illness.
How long will the Ellsworth Air Force Base lawsuit process take?
Ellsworth Air Force Base lawsuits may take several months or longer to resolve, though timelines vary from case to case.
What steps should I take if I was affected by the Ellsworth Air Force Base contamination?
After seeking the proper medical care, you should schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced in toxic torts and environmental law to determine your eligibility for a water contamination claim.
What is the average payout for the Ellsworth Air Force Base lawsuit or settlement?
Ellsworth AFB claims may settle at $30,000-$500,000, though amounts will vary based on the strength of your case. Some cases may even settle at amounts close to $1,000,000.
Is PFAS in Ellsworth Air Force Base water?
Yes, Ellsworth AFB water and water of surrounding communities contains PFAS.
What steps has Ellsworth Air Force Base taken to address the PFAS contamination?
The Air Force has established water treatment systems and plans for new waterlines to ensure affected residents have safe drinking water. Remedial investigations are also underway.
What are the main contaminants found in Ellsworth Air Force Base's drinking water?
Ellsworth Air Force Base’s drinking water has tested positive for numerous contaminants, including PFAS, benzene, and TCE.
Who is eligible for the Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination lawsuit?
You may be eligible for an Ellsworth AFB lawsuit if you were exposed to a toxin at the base for at least six months before getting diagnosed with a related illness.
How can individuals affected by the Ellsworth Air Force Base water contamination file a lawsuit?
To file a lawsuit, you can confirm your eligibility with an attorney, gather the appropriate evidence, and work with an experienced law firm to file your claim and fight for compensation.