Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently announced an environmental lawsuit against numerous manufacturers of PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” asserting they knew for decades about the serious risks the chemicals posed to humans and the environment.
The companies likely made many millions in profit while actively deceiving the public, his office said in a news release.
Per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, known as PFAS, have been used for decades to create water-resistant substances. In recent years, state and federal regulators have begun to impose more stringent restrictions on using them and to expand testing requirements. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to several types of cancer, infertility and developmental issues in children, among other health concerns, the attorney general’s office said.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, focuses on PFAS used in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical foam used for firefighting and emergency response, particularly around airports and military sites. In hiding the risks of PFAS and deceptively marketing it as safe, the lawsuit alleges the companies violated numerous state laws, including Washington’s law against public nuisances, the Products Liability Act and the Consumer Protection Act. Defendants include 3M, DuPont and 18 other manufacturers.
“These corporations knew for decades about the serious risks these forever chemicals pose to human health and our environment,” Ferguson stated. “Their corporate greed caused significant damage, and they need to be held accountable.”
PFAS from firefighting foam has contaminated groundwater used for drinking in multiple Washington communities, rendering some undrinkable and requiring significant treatment measures at others, the attorney general’s office said.
For example, 2021 groundwater testing near the Yakima Training Center showed PFAS contamination more than 1,300 times the new restrictions proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which could go into effect by the end of this year.
National blood sampling by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found PFAS in the blood of nearly every person tested since 1999. In Washington, a 2019 survey tested the blood of several hundred residents of Airway Heights, near Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, where AFFF has been in use since the 1970s. That survey found 100% of participants had at least one type of PFAS in their blood. The city of Airway Heights has been purchasing drinking water from Spokane since 2017 due to PFAS contamination.
Cleaning up PFAS contamination is complex and costly. The exact cost of cleaning up PFAS across Washington is not yet known, in part because contamination is still being discovered. To clean up a single contaminated site, the Washington Department of Ecology estimates costs ranging from $5.3 million to $62.8 million.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the court to order the companies to pay past and future costs to investigate, remediate, restore, treat, monitor and otherwise respond to PFAS contamination; and pay for all damages caused to the state, including natural resource damages.
The full list of defendants in the lawsuit are: 3M Company, AGC Chemicals Americas Inc., Amerex Corporation, Archroma U.S. Inc., Arkema Inc., BASF Corporation, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Carrier Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Carrier Global Corporation, ChemDesign Products Inc., Chemguard Inc., Clariant Corporation, Dynax Corporation, EIDP Inc. f/k/a E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Kidde PLC Inc., National Foam Inc., The Chemours Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Corteva Inc. and DuPont de Nemours Inc.
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