Ted Leopold Ted Leopold, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll   (Photo: Melanie Bell)

A lead lawyer spearheading the litigation over the Flint water crisis has brought a class action over drinking water contamination that allegedly has exposed residents in five counties to liver cancer and other health risks.

Ted Leopold, a Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, partner at Washington, D.C.’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, brought the case on Monday in North Carolina federal court against E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. and its subsidiary, The Chemours Co. The suit claims both companies, which make Teflon, created a public health crisis when they dumped several chemicals into the Cape Fear River for decades from a plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina—then hid their actions from federal and state regulators.

“Together, the chemical compounds DuPont discharged into the Cape Fear River over 45 years comprise a toxic cocktail with serious impacts to plaintiff’s and class members’ health, property and lives,” the complaint says.

Leopold estimated the case, brought along with lawyers from Houston’s Susman Godfrey, would seek more than $1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages.

Calls to du Pont and Chemours, both based in Delaware, were not returned.

The case is the fourth suit to be brought over the contamination, which has pressured state regulators and legislators into taking action. One case was brought by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, while two others were class actions seeking reimbursement for the loss of property values, repairs to homes and businesses and medical monitoring costs.

Leopold called his case “much more substantive in nature” when it comes to the “actual testing of homes, water heaters, the filtration of the water itself.” The named plaintiff, Victoria Carey, claims she was diagnosed with thyroid nodules and idiopathic immune condition after finding excessive levels of the chemicals in her water heater.

The complaint cites numerous internal studies that DuPont conducted on rats as part of a 2009 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found incidences of cancer and birth defects. But DuPont failed to warn regulators or the public about the risks and dismissed the findings, concluding that they weren’t relevant to human health, the complaint says.

The class action seeks damages and injunctive relief for residents of five counties that get their drinking water from the Cape Fear River. According to the complaint, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those five counties, with a population of nearly 775,000, have the highest concentration of liver disease in the United States.

DuPont, which began operating the Fayetteville plant during the 1970s, had been discharging C8 into the river until 2015, when it switched to another chemical, GenX. In February, DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay $670.7 million to settle 3,550 lawsuits over C8 contamination of the Ohio River in West Virginia.