Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) manufactured by major chemical companies such as 3m and DuPont have become the source of intense litigation regarding their pollution of water sources. PFAS exposure has been connected to increased cancer risk among other diseases and has led 3M Co. to negotiation of a settlement of at least $10 billion for water pollution claims in a multidistrict litigation case In Re Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation.
The settlements PFAS manufacturers face paying to claimants are believed only to be the tip of the iceberg. Pervasive PFAS use in a multitude of products such as firefighting foam and years of manufacturing of the chemicals means there are a large number of potential claimants in similar lawsuits involving PFAS pollution. Liability for harm caused by PFAS exposure could extend much farther than the notable multidistrict litigation 3M and DuPont are facing costly settlements with now.
What is PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a set of synthetic chemicals used in a variety of industries primarily for their water-repellant and durable properties. There are actually thousands of different PFAS chemicals but they all represent a health and environmental risk.
PFAS is useful across many industries and can be found in everything from water-repellant clothing to food packaging and even firefighting foam. Unfortunately, PFAS is carcinogenic and can significantly increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses since it interferes with the function of organs like the liver, kidneys, and more.
What makes this worse is that PFAS is resistant to breaking down over time which has resulted in them commonly being called “forever chemicals“. As one might expect, this poses a serious problem when it comes to pollution and exposure.
PFAS Water Contamination
Since PFAS break down so slowly they have a tendency to runoff and get absorbed in the water table. PFAS can get into the water through industrial waste, as a byproduct of manufacturing, and through direct runoff via PFAS-containing products like aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used in firefighting.
As time goes on, more and more PFAS can build up in the environment to dangerous levels and ends up consumed either through direct drinking of the water or through the food chain that drinks from the polluted water source. PFAS then builds up in humans and causes a wide range of health issues.
Illness Connected to PFAS Exposure
The scientific consensus after the conclusion of several studies is that PFAS chemicals present a significant health risk. There are many chemicals that are considered PFAS with different degrees of danger and effects. Investigation of PFAS harmful effects has mostly been conducted on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
To this day, the full scope of health effects caused by PFAS exposure is still not completely understood as further research is being done.
What is known for sure is that PFAS exposure in occupational, animal, and community studies has been connected to high rates of cancer among exposed populations. Common types of cancer associated with PFAS exposure include:
- Kidney Cancer
- Testicular Cancer
- Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Thyroid Cancer
Other PFAS Health Issues
Aside from PFAS carcinogenic qualities, it is also notable for its disruption of several essential body systems. PFAS are considered endocrine disruptors which means they interfere with the body’s ability to regulate hormones and affect reproduction and may cause developmental disorders.
PFAS also can disrupt the body’s immune system and affect your ability to fight illness. Specific organs have been shown to be affected by PFAS such as the liver, the kidneys, and the thyroid. Developmental disorders are also a high risk among children exposed to PFAS.
Lawsuits Against PFAS Manufacturers Because of Water Pollution
As mentioned before, there are currently several lawsuits filed against PFAS manufacturers that are part of a multidistrict litigation case. The multidistrict litigation (MDL) 3M is expected to provide at least $10 billion in settlements for involves water utility companies suing the manufacturer and others like Dupont because of PFAS water pollution caused by aqueous film-forming foam used in firefighting.
So far these lawsuits have seen significant success and additional litigation is poised to take place as additional scrutiny of PFAS pollution increases. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed designating PFOS and PFOA which are two of the most common and dangerous PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. This would further increase PFAS manufacturers’ potential liability and open the door to even more PFAS lawsuits.
Normally, the EPA would not be limited to targeting PFAS manufacturers unless the pollution directly came from their factories and other facilities. However, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund law would give the EPA and states additional authorities to hold direct polluters accountable for their pollution.
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) Lawsuits
AFFF was widely used as a fire suppressant by civilian fire departments and the military to deal with flammable liquid fires until its connection to causing cancer among firefighters was discovered. This carcinogenicity of course came from the presence of PFAS in its makeup.
As a result, many firefighters would file product liability lawsuits against AFFF and PFAS manufacturers. These many lawsuits from firefighters across the country with cancer due to occupational PFAS exposure would lead to the creation of an AFFF MDL that is costing 3M, DuPont, Chemours, and other manufacturers billions of dollars. In addition to the firefighters directly exposed to PFAS, other plaintiffs are also filing AFFF claims after discovering they have also been exposed but through water contamination.
Contact an Experienced PFAS Lawyer About Your AFFF Lawsuit
Those exposed to PFAS for long periods of time either through occupational exposure or through pollution should consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney. PFAS manufacturers have been found liable for damages their products have caused and you may be eligible for compensation.
An attorney specializing in AFFF pollution cases can help you determine your eligibility for compensation, what damages you can claim, and what options are available to seek compensation from negligent PFAS manufacturers.