Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Fairchild hit with second lawsuit

Local landowners file legal action against U.S. government over water contamination


November 22, 2018

Two West Plains landowners have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the federal government in the aftermath of the area’s water contamination, alleging that officials at Fairchild Air Force Base used the fire retardant irresponsibly and failed to warn neighbors of its “inherently dangerous properties.”

The suit is the second filed as a result of the incident, in which firefighting foam leeched into the water table from an on-base training facility. The first was filed in April and represents more than 100 people. That complaint takes aim at the manufacturers of the foam and claims that the contamination is responsible for a variety of health problems and reduced property values.

Attorney Andrew Bivano is working with the plaintiffs in both complaints, and said the suits were not combined because there are different requirements for suing different entities.

“There are multiple potentially liable parties for what happened out there,” Bivano said.

The new complaint seeks damages on behalf of two local landowners and to progress, the courts must first address the question of immunity. Under U.S. law, the federal government often benefits from sovereign immunity, which shields it from lawsuits. Bivano and his clients will argue that the government is not immune from the suit.

“Addressing immunity is asking, ‘Even if everything the plaintiff said is true and Fairchild failed to be careful and failed to take precautions, are they even liable for it?’” Bivano said. “That’ll be a big ol’ argument that will happen first.”

Bivano said he is not expecting a short court battle, but rather “a rigorous and respectful legal disagreement.”

The new commander of Fairchild Air Force Base, Col. Derek Salmi, said at the Nov. 14 West Plains Chamber of Commerce breakfast that working on the contamination issue was one of his top priorities. Salmi replaced Col. Ryan Samuelson in June.

The Air Force has installed filtration systems on about 58 local wells, and at least 28 more still require treatment due to contaminate levels in excess of the EPA’s official limit of 70 parts per trillion. About 368 wells in the area have been tested thus far, and the Air Force is providing bottled water to affected households while they wait for treatment systems to be installed.

Bivano had no comment as to whether either of the plaintiffs in the new complaint had suffered health issues as a result of their exposure.

The federal government has not yet responded to the lawsuit, and is not legally required to do so for 60 days.

Shannen Talbot can be reached at


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