Attorney General Ferguson lawsuit claims companies knew about toxic ‘forever chemicals’
May 31, 2023, 10:13 AM | Updated: 10:42 am
(Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he was filing a lawsuit Wednesday against 20 manufacturers of “forever chemicals” that have contaminated water supplies in the state.
The lawsuit claims that these manufacturing companies, including 3M and DuPont, knew about the serious risks of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for decades while making millions in profits. PFAS are non-biodegradable chemicals present in a variety of manufactured materials, from nonstick cookware to carpeting. Some of them, depending on their chemical structure and water solubility, can leech into the water supply.
“These corporations knew for decades about the serious risks these forever chemicals pose to human health and our environment,” Ferguson said. “Their corporate greed caused significant damage, and they need to be held accountable.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, studies have linked PFAS exposure to increased cancer risk, developmental delays in children, damage to organs such as the liver and thyroid, increased cholesterol levels, and reduced immune functions, especially among young children.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleged that companies marketed products containing PFAS as safe when selling aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to firefighting and emergency response units.
The lawsuit argued the companies violated numerous state laws, including Washington’s law against public nuisances, the Products Liability Act, and the Consumer Protection Act.
In a 1999 resignation letter from an environmental scientist, evidence showed the companies knew about the danger of the chemicals and did not do anything about it.
“3M waited too long to tell customers about the widespread dispersal of PFOS [a type of PFAS] in people and the environment,” the letter said. “… 3M continues to make and sell these chemicals, though the company knows of an ecological risk assessment I did that indicates there is a better than 100% probability that [PFOS] is biomagnifying in the food chain and harming sea mammals.”
The use of firefighting foam containing PFAS has already contaminated drinking water in multiple communities across the state, and blood sampling of residents near the Fairchild Air Force Base shows that 100% of participants had at least one type of PFAS in their blood.
The Washington State Department of Health launched a new dashboard to track PFAS contamination in drinking water. According to the dashboard, nearly 200 water sources in the state have been contaminated, including San Juan Island, Moses Lake, Issaquah, areas near Fairchild Air Force Base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and the Yakima Training Center.
More than 60% of Washingtonians rely on groundwater for at least a portion of their drinking water.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit asks for the companies to pay the past and future costs to find and restore all natural resources with PFAS contamination, as well as any damages caused by the toxic chemical.
The Washington Department of Ecology estimates the costs of cleaning up one contaminated site range from $5.3 million to $62.8 million.