- PFAS compounds are a group of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals with grease-proof, water-proof and fire-retardant properties.
- Several negative health outcomes have been associated with PFAS chemicals, including thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, cancer, hormonal imbalance, and compromised immune system.
- PFAS chemicals are perhaps best-known for their pervasiveness in the fast-food industry, especially in food packaging such as burger wrappers. (McDonald’s restaurants has pledged to remove PFAS chemicals from its packaging by 2025.)
- The chemicals in PFAS compounds can easily migrate to and penetrate into water supplies and soil.
- Once they have entered the human body, PFAS compounds can remain for life.
- PFAS chemicals are also used as a pesticide, and are one of 10 chemicals the Environmental Working Group said the Biden Administration should ban to protect children’s health.
PFAS chemicals have been used for decades in hundreds of products, encompassing a wide variety of industries. Most Americans have detectable levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood.
Lawsuits centering around PFAS chemicals have been ongoing for more than two decades, JDSUPRA.com reports. The bulk of those lawsuits have involved manufacturers and purchasers of the controversial class of chemicals.
But the litigation landscape may quickly expand, due to the Biden Administration’s early efforts to reign in the chemicals through federal regulatory enactments.
Focus Of PFAS Lawsuits
Individual lawsuits have been filed against PFAS manufacturers for contaminating drinking water, groundwater and soil. Attorneys General of US states have also filed PFAS lawsuits for the same reason, as have water utility companies.
Legal claims have mostly focused on personal injury due to exposure to the chemicals; diminished property values due to well-water and soil contamination and for remediation expenses.
Manufacturers of the brand-name coating, Teflon and firefighting foam have been frequent targets of PFAS litigation. Shareholders have also sued manufacturers for not disclosing the risk of PFAS liability in shareholder reports.
JDSUPRA.com also reports that rural water providers have proposed a class action to provide compensation for water testing and data collection. Another proposed class action would cast a nationwide net to establish a scientific panel on PFAS risks.
To date, one of the highest-profile PFAS lawsuits ended in 2018 when chemical maker 3M settled with Minnesota for $850 million. The previous year, Teflon-maker DuPont resolved 3,550 lawsuits for over $670 million. And earlier this year, DuPont announced a $4 billion cost-sharing plan to resolve legacy PFAS liability claims; the company in January resolved 100 personal injury claims with an $83 million settlement.
PFAS Lawsuits Will Continue Down The Supply Chain
Litigation against PFAS manufacturers is expected to continue. New PFAS litigation will involve industries that have used the chemicals in their products. One example is paper mill companies. JDSupra.com says that there’s a proposed class action in the state of Maine brought forth by property owners. The owners allege that the paper mill has disposed of materials with PFAS chemicals for a half century; the owners are seeking compensation for property damage and medical monitoring.
JDSupra.com reports that other future PFAS lawsuits will focus on false advertising claims. One such suit would target claims made by companies who suggest that their packaging is compostable when in fact they contain PFAS chemicals, some of which may never break down in the environment.
A lawsuit was recently filed in California against a feminine hygiene products company that sells underwear specifically meant to be worn during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Third-party testing allegedly reveals that the underwear contains PFAS chemicals.
Cosmetic product companies will also likely be the target of future PFAS litigation.
Individual states up until recently had stricter standards for regulating PFAS chemicals than the federal EPA. However, that is very likely to change with a new Biden Administration. President Biden’s new EPA Administrator is Michael Regan, who was confirmed by a bipartisan Senate and previously headed North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and oversaw PFAS regulation and remediation efforts there.
Considering federal PFAS regulations will likely tighten, expect to see “forever chemical” lawsuits exploding over the next coming years.