Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, assisted by Hagens Berman, has filed two separate suits to clean up contamination of State waters and other State natural resources by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
One lawsuit is against the manufacturers of PFAS – 3M, DuPont and several of its affiliated companies – and focuses on contamination caused by PFAS in consumer, household, and other commercial products, as well as industrial uses. State of Vermont v. 3M Co., No. 547-6-19 Cncv (Vt. Super. Ct.). The second lawsuit names the manufacturers of fire-fighting foam containing PFAS as well as a company that supplied ingredients containing PFAS to the foam manufacturers and addresses contamination caused by PFAS in fire-fighting foam. State of Vermont v. 3M Co., No. 2:19-cv-00134 (D. Vt.). PFAS are human-made, synthetic chemicals that do not exist naturally in the environment and are toxic at extremely low levels. PFAS were widely used for decades in consumer, household, and other commercial products, as well as industrial uses and in fire-fighting foam.
PFAS exposure is correlated with a wide array of harmful health effects, including kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, and adverse effects on the liver, the immune system, the thyroid, cholesterol levels and fetal development during pregnancy.
PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they persist in the environment for an indefinite (and very long) period of time and bioaccumulate in the human body. They can biomagnify in animals, particularly fish and “top of the food chain” mammals. PFAS are a family of compounds that include:
- Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
- Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA)
VERMONT NATURAL RESOURCE CONTAMINATION
Fire-fighting foam containing PFAS was marketed for use in training exercises and live fires at airports and fire departments, among other uses. Defendants’ fire-fighting foam has contaminated Vermont drinking water, groundwater, surface water, wildlife, soil and sediment, according to the lawsuit.
Defendant PFAS manufacturers also used PFAS in consumer products, including those with Teflon and with Scotchgard, and other household and commercial products, as well as industrial processes. PFAS from these products and uses has contaminated Vermont drinking water, groundwater, surface water, wildlife, soil and sediment.
Since the discovery of PFOA contamination in Bennington in 2016, the State of Vermont has launched an investigation to help identify sources of PFAS contamination in the State. Over the last few years, the State has discovered that PFAS contamination appears to be nearly ubiquitous.
WHAT 3M AND DUPONT KNEW
3M was the primary manufacturer of PFAS chemicals in the United States from the 1940s until 2002. When 3M phased out production of PFOA, DuPont began manufacturing its own PFAS chemicals, despite knowing about the health and environmental risks of PFAS from its use of PFAS for consumer products starting in 1951. The other Defendants in the fire-fighting foam lawsuit, Chemguard Inc., Tyco Fire Products L.P., National Foam Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company and Kidde-Fenwal Inc., each manufactured fire-fighting foam that contained PFAS chemicals.
3M and DuPont knew for decades that PFAS chemicals were toxic and posed substantial health and environmental risks, but they continued to promote these chemical products as safe and appropriate for widespread use. DuPont was a founding member of the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition, which was formed to advocate for fire-fighting foam’s continued viability even though the fire-fighting foam manufacturers knew the use of their fire-fighting foam products posed a threat to human health and the environment.
3M and DuPont knew for decades that PFAS chemicals were toxic and posed substantial health and environmental risks, but they continued to promote these chemical products for use in fire-fighting foam, and in their own consumer and other products. For example, even though toxicity tests in the 1970s demonstrated that 3M’s fire-fighting foam was hazardous to marine life, 3M distributed ad brochures for its fire-fighting foam that stated that “[t]ests and actual use situations have shown that animal and aquatic life are not adversely affected.” And, by 1961, DuPont’s researchers had concluded that PFOA was toxic and DuPont’s chief toxicologist, Dorothy Hood, warned in a memo to executives that products containing PFOA should be “handled with extreme care.”