After a legal battle that went on for more than three-and-a-half years, environmental activists have reached a settlement with the federal government over the burning of toxic firefighting foam at hazardous waste incinerators in East Liverpool and two other locations.

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit filed in early 2020 by Save Our County, the Sierra Club, and other organizations against the United States Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Defense, and Heritage Thermal of East Liverpool.

At the time the complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Youngstown, the Defense Department was the nation’s largest user of firefighting foam made from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances also known as “PFAS”.

Research has determined that PFAS are highly persistent and toxic chemicals that cause cancer, liver disease, infertility, and other serious health effects, according to the complaint.

Hundreds of PFAS releases from military bases and installations across the country have resulted in widespread soil and drinking water contamination.

Facing multiple lawsuits and billions of dollars in potential liability from those releases, the Defense Department chose to burn its unused stockpiles of firefighting foam at Heritage in East Liverpool and two other waste incinerators.

In May 2019, the Defense Logistics Agency contracted with Heritage Environmental Services for the removal, transportation, and incineration of 888,000 gallons of firefighting foam from Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, the same properties that have made PFAS a widely used fire suppressant also make them difficult and dangerous to incinerate. Because of the strength of their chemical bonds, PFAS do not readily burn and are not destroyed under typical incineration conditions. “Instead, uncombusted PFAS are emitted into the air along with other hazardous chemicals, contaminating the communities surrounding the incinerators,” as stated in the complaint.

Save Our County and the Sierra Club claimed that the government failed to conduct any environmental review before awarding contracts to Heritage and others to incinerate the firefighting foam.

Two of the incineration facilities were removed from the lawsuit earlier after their government contracts were canceled.

Under the settlement reached last week, the contract with Heritage has been terminated. The settlement states that Heritage is not named as a party to the agreement. However, an order from Judge David Ruiz dismissed the case against all defendants.

The government says it has agreed to publish online all current and future Defense Logistics Agency hazardous waste disposal contracts for the incineration of firefighting foam.

In addition, the settlement includes a lump sum payment of $200,000 from the government to cover attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses associated with the lawsuit.

 Heritage is not obligated to pay any portion of the $200,000 settlement.