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January 26, 2024

CT targets 3M, DuPont and others over PFAS pollution in water

MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG Attorney General William Tong announces PFAS litigation at the Connecticut Fire Academy. At right is Peter Brown, president of a firefighters union.

Connecticut filed two lawsuits Thursday accusing chemical makers of covering up for decades the dangers of PFAS, a class of toxic and ubiquitous “forever” chemicals that persist in the environment and are widely detected in private wells and public water systems.

With litigation filed in Hartford Superior Court, Connecticut joins the growing list of plaintiffs suing major chemical makers over a slowly unfolding fiscal, environmental and public health crisis. A handful of manufacturers agreed to $12 billion in settlements in 2023, and the industry is bracing for more.

“These companies knew the truth decades ago, and they buried the evidence and lied to all of us. Because of that, we are dealing with widespread contamination of drinking water and natural resources across Connecticut,” Attorney General William Tong said.

The two lawsuits are organized by the two markets for products with PFAS chemicals: the aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, used in firefighting; and an extraordinarily wide range of consumer products, including food packaging, cookware, carpeting, upholstery, clothing, and cosmetics.

“What really hits home for me is that there’s likely and potentially PFAS in the microwave popcorn I ate last night or in the nonstick pots and pans that I used to fry eggs on Sunday morning,” Tong said. The chemicals likely are detectable in the blood of anyone tested, he said.

Accompanied by environmental and public health officials, Tong announced the litigation at the Connecticut Fire Training Academy in Windsor Locks, not far from two major AFFF deployments at Bradley International Airport that sent PFAS streaming into the Farmington River. 

But the venue primarily was chosen to reflect the special danger PFAS poses to firefighters. In addition to its presence in the AFFF used to suppress fires, the chemical also is used in the turnout gear that protects firefighters. Among PFAS’ useful properties are a resistance to heat, water, grease and stains.

Peter Brown, the state president of the largest union representing firefighters, said he and every firefighter were presented on their first day with neatly folded turnout gear — the boots, pants, coat and helmet they were told will be the most important piece of equipment they ever will use.

“What they never said was that in order to get that level of protection, the manufacturers decided it was necessary to saturate that gear with PFAS chemicals, meaning each and every time we put it on and went out the door, we’re exposing ourselves to deadly carcinogens,” Brown said.

Occupational cancers are now the biggest cause of death in firefighting, Brown said.

In the consumer products lawsuit, the defendants are 3M Co., DuPont de Nemours and four companies either affiliated with DuPont or spun off as independent corporations. 3M and DuPont also are among the 26 defendants in the suit focused on firefighting foam.

The potential damages here and elsewhere are enormous, and 3M agreed last year to pay at least $10.3 billion to settle claims from many public water systems. In a separate agreement, DuPont de Nemours and two spinoffs, Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc., agreed to spend $1.18 billion.

Tong said the Connecticut cases most likely will be consolidated in a federal case currently pending in South Carolina.

“We’re going to make them pay for the damage they’ve done,” Tong said. “It’s going to be tens of billions of dollars, if not more, and we’re going to make them make it right, take these products off the shelves, discontinue them, find alternatives, and do everything they can to keep all of us, our firefighters and our families, safe.”

Tong said the industry is attempting to insulate itself from other claims by asserting the liability for PFAS attached to companies that have been spun off.

One of the key defendants, DuPont de Nemours, immediately responded Thursday by claiming a distance from its legacy parent, E.I. du Pont de Nemours, and Chemours and Coreteva.

“In 2019, DuPont de Nemours was established as a new multi-industrial specialty products company. DuPont de Nemours has never manufactured PFOA, PFOS or firefighting foam,” the company said. PFOA and PFOS are two of the commonly produced PFAS chemicals.

The company also spun off units that make or made PFAS chemicals, Chemours and Coreteva.

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation matters, we believe this complaint is without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.”

3M Co. said it will respond by “defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate” and cast any liability as the product of information unavailable when PFAS chemicals were developed.

“As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS,” 3M said. “We have and will continue to deliver on our commitments – including remediating PFAS as appropriate, investing in water treatment, and collaborating with communities.”

The lawsuits accuse 3M and “Old DuPont,” as its legacy company is called in the suit, of hiding research about the dangers of PFAS.

“For example, for over two decades the manufacturers failed to disclose to regulators that their PFAS was in the blood of the general human population – only after the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) learned of this fact in 1998 did one Defendant, the 3M Company, then produce over 1,200 studies it had withheld,” the state claimed.

In 1981, Old DuPont secretly monitored female employees who had been exposed to PFOA and drew blood from those who had been pregnant.

“Of the eight women who gave birth during this time period, two of the eight gave birth to children with birth defects in their eyes or face, and a third child had PFOA in the umbilical cord,” the suit says. “As Old DuPont’s medical director Bruce Karrh explained in a memo, this monitoring was undertaken to ‘answer a single question – does [PFOA] cause abnormal children?’ The results of the research were described as ‘statistically significant.’” 

The study was abandoned without informing regulators or employees of the findings,” the suit says.

Old DuPont abandoned the study without informing regulators or employees, the lawsuit says.

Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said PFAS chemicals are so potent that testing measures them in parts per trillion. To visualize that, Dykes said, imagine one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont established a working group in 2019 to assess the extent of PFAS contamination and implement a testing program of public and private water systems. 

“When you turn on that tap water, we want you to have the confidence that the water is safe to drink,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, the commissioner of public health. “We live in a country and in a state where that’s possible. That is not true everywhere.”

The General Assembly passed a law in 2021 banning the use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging. Connecticut has collected more than 35,000 gallons of AFFF.  A safer, if somewhat less effective foam, is being phased in as a replacement.

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