Forever chemicals on trial: decoding a decade of contaminated waters and corporate accountability

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on August 01st, 2023

The decade of litigation has shed light on the significant pollution caused by PFAS, resulting in thousands of lawsuits against major manufacturers. As communities grapple with the burden of contaminated drinking water and the costs of cleanup, it is essential for manufacturers to take responsibility for their actions.

Since 2005, over 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits have been filed, encompassing class actions and state attorney general actions. One significant category includes water utilities taking legal action against manufacturers to recover the costs incurred in dealing with PFAS-contaminated drinking water. The implications of these lawsuits extend beyond financial compensation, as they aim to hold manufacturers accountable for their role in polluting the nation's water supply.

3M, a corporate giant under scrutiny

Among the companies facing the most substantial litigation is 3M, a corporate giant that has contributed significantly to PFAS contamination. The company has come under intense scrutiny as allegations surfaced that it knowingly polluted drinking water supplies and communities across the United States. Although 3M denies many of the claims raised in recent lawsuits, the evidence has led to a heated legal battle.

To defend their environmental records and products, 3M, like other manufacturers, has invoked the "government contractor" defense recognized by the Supreme Court in 1988. This defense seeks to limit manufacturers' liability when producing military products to government specifications. However, the applicability of this defense to PFAS producers is still being debated in courts.

The bellwether trials: a watershed moment

The outcome of the ongoing litigation hinges on bellwether trials, representing pivotal cases that could set precedents for other pending claims. Utilities alleging PFAS manufacturers contaminated their drinking water have emerged as primary candidates for these bellwether trials. Such trials will have far-reaching implications, determining the future trajectory of PFAS-related lawsuits and potentially exposing manufacturers to billions of dollars in liabilities.

Anaheim, California, is one of the local governments embroiled in PFAS litigation. The city is suing major manufacturers, including 3M and DuPont, for contaminating its water sources, leading to extensive cleanup and soaring costs for its residents. This lawsuit, along with others, reflects the significant impact of PFAS contamination on communities nationwide.

Investigations into 3M's practices have brought to light crucial information, including the company's awareness of the dangers posed by its products as far back as the 1970s. Testimonies by former 3M toxicologists have linked the company to global PFAS contamination. These revelations strengthen the plaintiffs' arguments and increase pressure on manufacturers to accept responsibility for their actions.

The government's role and funding

The federal government has allocated approximately $10 billion to address the PFAS contamination issue, with some funds aimed at helping small or disadvantaged communities clean up their drinking water. However, experts estimate that the total cost of eliminating PFAS from the entire nation's water supply could range from $200 billion to $400 billion. This highlights the enormity of the problem and the need for concerted efforts from both the government and private sector.

In a significant step towards addressing PFAS contamination, 3M has made a bold pledge to halt PFAS manufacturing by the year 2026. However, the company maintains that PFAS plays a critical role in the production of numerous products essential for modern life. This decision reflects a growing acknowledgment of the urgent need to find safer alternatives to these persistent chemicals.

As the PFAS phase-out takes shape, encouraging advancements in technology have led to the development of viable non-PFAS alternatives, particularly in the realm of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). These alternatives offer hope for reducing future contamination and mitigating health risks associated with PFAS.

Our dedicated attorneys stand ready to assist you in joining the PFAS water contamination lawsuit

With over three decades of experience, the Environmental Litigation Group has been championing the cause of toxic exposure victims, fighting for their rightful justice and compensation. Our primary goal is to support eligible public water utilities in participating in the PFAS Settlement Payout Program.

To be eligible for participation, public water utilities must have substantiated evidence of PFAS contamination. We are here to assess your eligibility and offer a complimentary case evaluation. Feel free to reach out to us, and we will guide you through the process.