Analyzing the PFAS Class Action Lawsuit Against 3M and DuPont: A Legal Perspective 

The class action lawsuit led by Ohio resident Kevin Hardwick against 3M, Corteva Inc’s subsidiary E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co, and other companies, highlights significant legal and environmental concerns surrounding the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This lawsuit, which has recently faced setbacks in the U.S. appeals court, underscores the complexities in holding corporations accountable for alleged chemical pollution. 

Key Points: 

  • Challenging Legal Landscape for Environmental Liability: The lawsuit faced a significant setback when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismantled the class action, citing a lack of sufficient evidence to directly link the PFAS found in plaintiffs to the defendants. This highlights the complexities in proving direct liability in environmental lawsuits. 
  • Corporate Responsibility in Environmental Contamination: The case raises crucial questions about the extent of corporate accountability for widespread environmental harm, especially when multiple companies are involved in the production and dissemination of harmful chemicals like PFAS. 
  • Precedential Impact on Future Cases: The outcome of this lawsuit could set a significant precedent for future environmental litigation. A dismissal may weaken the position of plaintiffs in similar cases, while a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could lead to stricter corporate liability standards. 
  • Public Health and Environmental Concerns of PFAS: PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” pose serious environmental and health risks. This case underscores the urgency of addressing the impact of PFAS, which has been linked to various health issues and is persistent in the environment. 
  • Recent Settlements Indicating Corporate Acknowledgment: The recent settlements, including 3M’s agreement to pay $10.3 billion and the joint settlement by Chemours Co, DuPont de Nemours, and Corteva, suggest a growing acknowledgment by corporations of their role in PFAS contamination and its impact on public health and the environment. 

Hardwick’s lawsuit accuses the aforementioned companies of endangering public health by exposing individuals to PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and the human body. The class action sought to represent approximately 11.8 million Ohio residents, aiming to hold these companies liable for PFAS contamination. However, a November decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismantled the class action, citing insufficient evidence to directly link the PFAS found in plaintiffs to the defendants. 

Legal Implications and Concerns 

  • Challenges in Proving Direct Liability: The court’s ruling highlights the difficulty in establishing a direct causal link between specific chemical manufacturers and PFAS contamination in individuals. This presents a significant legal hurdle for future litigants in similar environmental cases. 
  • Scope of Corporate Responsibility: Hardwick’s argument that only a handful of companies are responsible for manufacturing the specific PFAS in question raises important questions about the extent of corporate accountability in widespread environmental issues. 
  • Precedent for Future Environmental Litigation: The outcome of this case could set a precedent for how courts handle similar environmental and public health lawsuits. A dismissal may potentially embolden chemical manufacturers, while a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs could pave the way for more stringent accountability measures. 
  • Environmental and Public Health Concerns: The case underscores the urgent need to address the environmental and health impacts of PFAS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized PFAS as a significant public health issue, with steps being taken to regulate these chemicals, particularly in drinking water. 

Recent Developments and Settlements 

  • 3M’s agreement in June to pay $10.3 billion to settle claims of polluting public drinking water with PFAS. 
  • The joint settlement by Chemours Co, DuPont de Nemours, and Corteva with U.S. water providers for $1.19 billion, indicating a recognition of the impact of PFAS contamination. 

The Hardwick v. 3M Co case, currently under review by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 22-3765), remains a critical touchstone in the ongoing discourse around environmental responsibility and public health. Its outcome will not only affect the parties involved but also potentially influence future environmental litigation and corporate accountability practices in the United States.