They’re called “forever chemicals,” but companies such as DuPont and 3M which marketed products that contained PFAS, are now facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by Maryland’s attorney general.
PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of synthetic, potentially harmful chemicals used in a wide variety of household products and industrial processes. They have been used since the 1940s in products that are heat and stain resistant and water and oil repellent.
Studies have linked PFAS exposure to increased cancer risk, developmental delays in children, damage to organs, increased cholesterol levels and reduced immune functions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In two lawsuits filed on behalf of the state against major chemical manufacturers, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown alleged that the companies knowingly marketed and sold products that forever contaminated the state and its residents.
One lawsuit addresses what’s commonly referred to as firefighting foam, also used by the military and at industrial facilities, which contains PFAS.
The second suit aims at consumer products that could connect the user with PFAS. The lawsuit claims that even after items are trashed, they continued to leak chemicals into Maryland’s landfills, wastewater treatment facilities and general environment.
“Protecting the health and well-being of Marylanders and the environment in which we live and raise our families is one of my top priorities,” Brown said in a statement. “Access to safe drinking water, a clean environment, and the precious natural resources of Maryland will not be jeopardized by those who put profits above public health and safety. These corporations must pay to clean up the damage and be held accountable for the harms they have caused.”
Both lawsuits alleged that the companies knew the dangers associated with products containing PFAS many decades ago, but they failed to alert the state and public.
Maryland joins Rhode Island and other states that have taken similar actions.
The EPA last March proposed the first federal limits on harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water, The Associated Press reported.
Last December, 3M said it would phase out the manufacturing of “forever chemicals” and try to get them out of all their products within two years.
“While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve,” 3M chairman and chief executive officer Mike Roman said in a press release. “This action is another example of how we are positioning 3M for continued sustainable growth by optimizing our portfolio, innovating for our customers, and delivering long-term value for our shareholders.”
DuPont also noted commitments to eliminate the use of “long-chain PFAS” by the end of 2019, stop purchasing firefighting foams that have these chemical compounds by the end of 2021 and continue to share progress toward reducing PFAS use.
In 2021, DuPont agreed to share the $4 billion settlement costs for the use of “forever chemicals” with company spinoffs Chemours and Corveta Reach. The settlement resolved 95 cases and unfiled matters in the Ohio case.
In response to our request for comment, 3M spokesman Grant Thompson responded with the following statement.
“3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS – including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) – and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship,” Thompson said.
WTOP reached out to DuPont for comment on the lawsuit and did not hear back.
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