New Jersey Towns Join Nationwide Lawsuit Over Toxic “Forever Chemicals” Polluting Drinking Water 

Communities across New Jersey are grappling with the insidious contamination of their drinking water supplies by a group of persistent toxic compounds known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.” As a result, water suppliers in towns like Brick, Toms River, Wall, and many others have joined a sweeping multi-district lawsuit blaming the major chemical manufacturers for this widespread pollution.

5 Key Points: 

  1. PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals widely used in products like non-stick cookware, firefighting foams, food packaging and stain/water-resistant fabrics due to their unique resistance to heat, water and oil. 
  2. Numerous studies have linked PFAS exposure, even at minuscule levels, to increased risks of certain cancers, high blood pressure, fertility issues, reduced vaccine efficacy, developmental problems in children and more. 
  3. PFAS contamination originating from sources like firefighting foam use and manufacturing has permeated drinking water systems throughout New Jersey, with levels exceeding federal safety thresholds in some communities. 
  4. Statewide water providers have joined forces in a centralized multi-district lawsuit targeting major PFAS manufacturers like 3M, DuPont, and others, seeking compensation and accountability. 
  5. Plaintiffs seek financial damages to cover the immense costs of removing PFAS from drinking water through specialized filtration systems and damages for those who developed illnesses from exposure. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of synthetic chemicals valued for their resistance to heat, water, oil, stains, and corrosion. This made them highly useful in the production of countless consumer products and industrial applications. However, these same properties that made PFAS so prized are also the reasons why they have become a persistent environmental and health hazard. 

“PFAS are incredibly resistant to degradation in the environment. That’s one reason they are called ‘forever chemicals’,” said Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a leading PFAS researcher. “Because of their persistence, PFAS don’t break down, but accumulate in the air, soil and water over time.” (UCLA PFAS Fact Sheet) 

Their incredible persistence and mobility through the environment have led to the ubiquitous presence of PFAS in water supplies, food products, household dust, and even the blood of virtually every person sampled in CDC testing. This earned them the notorious nickname of “forever chemicals.” 

In New Jersey, PFAS water contamination stemming largely from the widespread historical use of PFAS-laden firefighting foams and manufacturing runoff has leached into drinking water supplies across the state. The Environmental Litigation Group, representing plaintiffs, reports detected PFAS levels exceeding the EPA’s safety advisory by over 4 times in Wall Township and 3.25 times in Brick Township. 

“Other contaminants like PFOA and PFBS were also detected in concerning concentrations,” said attorney Yahn Olson. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was formerly used to make non-stick coatings, while PFBS are a group of chemicals providing grease and water resistance. (Oglesby, 2024) 

The Harrowing Health Impacts of PFAS Exposure 

While the scientific understanding of exactly how PFAS impact human health is still evolving, the evidence of substantive harm is mounting. The Environmental Protection Agency cites studies linking PFAS exposure to increased risks of kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and hormone disruption impacting fertility and reproductive health. 

“These chemicals can also accumulate in the body over time, persisting for years,” the EPA states. “This can lead to lower vaccine efficacy, reduced ability to fight infections, and increased risk of other adverse health effects.” (EPA PFAS Factsheet) 

Perhaps most concerning are the findings that even minuscule PFAS exposures over an extended period appear to be hazardous, especially for vulnerable populations like infants and children. Researchers in Minnesota concluded that routine low-level PFAS exposure represented a public health threat based on their decades studying the compounds. 

“There is evidence that continued persistence of PFAS in the human body leads to potential adverse health outcomes,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported, citing impacts like low birth weights, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations, and more (MN PFAS Summary). 

Their mobility and persistence mean PFAS readily transfers across the placenta and into breastmilk, elevating exposure risks during the critical windows of infant and childhood development. A CDC study published in 2022 detected PFAS in all umbilical cord blood samples tested. 

The PFAS Lawsuit Confronting Chemical Manufacturers 

Fed up with inaction, water providers in New Jersey have joined a far-reaching multi-district lawsuit filed in South Carolina to directly confront the major PFAS manufacturers like 3M, DuPont, Corteva and others. Every PFAS case filed in the nation against these companies is centralized in this legal proceeding. 

“It allows resources and evidence to be pooled against the chemical giants,” said Yahn Olson of the Environmental Litigation Group representing plaintiffs. “If you took one plaintiff exposed to PFAS leading to cancer, they really wouldn’t have the resources to fight all these big companies themselves.” (Oglesby, 2024) 

The multi-district effort has bundled together around 500 similar lawsuits from across the country brought by water suppliers, firefighting groups, individuals and others impacted by PFAS contamination. This consolidated approach provides more leverage to take on the chemical behemoths being accused of downplaying the hazards of PFAS while prioritizing profits over public health. 

While some companies like 3M have agreed to phase out PFAS production by 2025, they still face enormous liability for decades of unchecked pollution. 3M alone agreed to a $10.3 billion settlement in 2022 related to PFAS drinking water contamination cases. 

Other companies like DuPont and its spin-off Chemours have settled for a combined $1.18 billion to resolve PFAS lawsuits brought by public water systems and other plaintiffs. But legal experts say these are just the opening acts in the PFAS litigation likely to drag on for years. 

For the water suppliers and providers involved, the goal of joining the multi-district lawsuit is to pursue financial compensation to fund the immense costs associated with installing specialized filtration systems to remove PFAS from their drinking water supplies. 

“Once it gets into the waterways, you can filter PFAS out, but it requires very expensive and specialized filters,” Olson explained. “Other than that, there’s really no way to get rid of it once contamination occurs.” (Oglesby, 2024) 

Those individuals who have developed illnesses and conditions potentially linked to PFAS exposure, like the firefighters regularly using PFAS-based foams, are also seeking damages through the litigation.