PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Water Supply Lawsuits
Everywhere you look these days, there are seemingly headlines about dangerous “forever chemicals.” The public does not fully understand the dangers inherent in these substances and what we may face in the future because chemical companies and product manufacturers put profits over people. Now, defendants are facing a reckoning in lawsuits that are bringing to light decades of misconduct.
The specific type of chemicals at issue are Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (known colloquially as PFAS). These are man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. PFAS are intended to be long-lasting and permanent substances. They are intended in part to make products more durable. That is exactly why they are nearly impossible to remove from the environment.
The Many Uses of PFAS
PFAS is used in many different products, including the following:
- Food packaging
- Household upholstery, such as carpets
- Fire extinguishing foam
- Personal care products and cosmetics
- Non-stick cookware
- Water repellent clothing
PFAS chemicals can actually encompass thousands of different substances. The double-edged sword with PFAS chemicals is that they do not simply disappear over time. Once they are discharged, they can be in the environment for thousands of years. The problem is when PFAS chemicals make their way into the food and water supply. Eventually, these chemicals can end up on the crops that become the food that we eat and into the lakes and reservoirs that become the water that we drink. In fact, practically every American has some amount of PFAS in their body.
PFAS Chemicals Are a Potential Carcinogen
There are very few man-made chemicals that could be considered safe to ingest. While we are still learning about the effects of PFAS chemicals, what we know so far indicates that they could be dangerous when humans consume them. The primary danger is that PFAS chemicals may be a carcinogen when people are exposed to them and certain amounts. If you ingest PFAS chemicals in the water that you drink, you could develop the following types of cancer:
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Liver cancer
Other Illnesses Connected to PFAS Chemicals
PFAS chemicals have also been associated with the following other illnesses:
- Reproductive effects in women, such as a decrease in fertility
- Developmental delays in children
- Higher cholesterol levels in the body and a greater risk of obesity
- Reduced effectiveness of the body’s immune system
- Increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease
- Birth defects
PFAS chemicals have varying risks of danger attached to them. Since there are so many different types of these chemicals, it is hard to know your own level of exposure and personal risks. What we do know at this point is that practically every person in the U.S. has some exposure to these dangerous substances.
What makes the situation even more challenging is that it is extremely difficult to clean up and remove PFAS from the environment. These chemicals are designed specifically to be long-lasting, and they are resistant to efforts to remediate. Cleanup costs could reach into the billions of dollars, if it is even possible to completely remove these chemicals. The federal government has recently taken steps to begin to force polluters to pay for PFAS removal. In the meantime, practically every American is exposed to danger on a daily basis.
PFAS in the water supply is a particular danger because those exposed drink and bathe in this water every single day. As we have seen from the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits, toxic water is a particular health threat to those who are exposed.
Civil Lawsuits for PFAS Injuries and Damages
Those who pollute the water supply may be held liable in civil lawsuits. The widespread contamination of water in Flint, Michigan has been the subject of a mass tort lawsuit against the government who was responsible for the pollution. In addition, the recent contamination of the water supply in Jackson, Mississippi will also lead to mass tort lawsuits against those responsible.
Our lawyers expect PFAS contamination to be a large area of litigation in the coming years. More people will be sickened by the chemicals in their water. Recently, more plaintiffs have begun to file PFAS lawsuits. There were many court cases filed around 2015, but that number dropped for a long period of time. The number of PFAS lawsuits began to increase again in early 2020. In 2022, there have been more than an average of 100 new lawsuits filed each month.
The main defendant in many of the lawsuits is E.I. Dupont Nemours. The chemical giant has made many of the PFAS chemicals sold in the United States. It is expected that Dupont would shoulder much of the liability if PFAS lawsuits are successful.
Recently, there has been a spike in lawsuits against companies other than Dupont, including:
- 3M Co.
- Chemguard Inc.
- Kidde-Fenwal Inc.
- National Foam Inc.
- Dynax Corp
Companies that manufacture finished products that contain PFAS are also being sued by injured plaintiffs.
One of the major issues in PFAS lawsuits is that the companies that made these chemicals may have known about their dangers as early as six decades ago. Nonetheless, they continued to Market and sell PFAS chemicals, since they were a multibillion-dollar industry. In these cases, manufacturers can be found liable for selling a defective product. Here the defect is the failure to warn the public of the danger posed by the products.
Currently, most of the PFAS lawsuits involve toxic firefighting foam. The United States military often turned to this foam for use at military bases. The problem is that residents in the surrounding areas have now been sickened by contaminated drinking water. At this writing, there is multidistrict litigation surrounding aqueous film forming foam. We fully expect additional cases to be filed against companies that made other products that rely upon PFAS chemicals. These lawsuits may be one of the growing areas of litigation in the next decade.
Not only will the manufacturers be legally responsible for paying cleanup costs, but they may also be made to pay sickened consumers and people who did not buy products but were exposed to these chemicals through their water and environment. Many companies have already allocated money to pay for potential lawsuit damages and settlements.
The scope of PFAS plaintiffs may expand beyond those who were injured by the products. Heavy contamination of the water supply could diminish property values in the surrounding areas. Numerous people will look to sue these companies as the scope of the damages becomes more apparent.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by PFAS chemicals oh, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. You should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to review your case with an eye toward filing a potential claim against the company that made the chemicals or the product that contained them.