As of July 2023, thousands of lawsuits are currently underway regarding PFAS or perfluorochemicals. Also known as perfluoroalkyls, PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that include perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). These chemicals are found in many places, some of which items are in daily use. PFAS do not break down over time, which makes them dangerous to humans and the environment.
Recent studies link exposure to PFAS and the development of significant health complications, including cancer. Also, internal documents show that the manufacturers of these chemicals knew of their dangers but did not adequately warn the public. As a result, several class-action lawsuits against the primary manufacturers of PFAS have been filed, mostly from local municipalities, states, and even individuals.
Many Americans have been in contact with PFAS, but some experienced more exposure than others. Individuals are filing lawsuits to help pay for medical costs, and governments are suing to pay for the environmental cleanup. If you suffered exposure to PFAS because of where you live or work, you may be eligible to join one of the current class-action lawsuits.
PFAS Water Contamination Lawsuit Updates
- Understanding the Landmark AFFF/PFAS Water District Settlement (10/19/2023)
- Recent Advances in PFAS/AFFF Litigation and 3M Earplug Settlements (8/30/2023)
- Navigating the Legal Tides: Understanding the Landmark AFFF/PFAS Water District Settlement (7/26/2023)
What are forever chemicals?
Forever chemicals is an umbrella term for PFAS, a group of about 12,000 different substances that do not break down over time in the environment or our bodies. Most substances will degrade over time and in the right conditions, however PFAS are an exception. This is due to their strong heat, water, and grease resistance. This strong resistance makes them useful in various products but also dangerous to our health.
The strong resistance comes from the molecules that make up PFAS. PFAS molecules consist of carbon and fluorine atoms linked together in a chain. Carbon-fluorine bonds are some of the strongest possible in nature, preventing PFAS from degrading easily.
What are PFAS found in?
Many products, such as toilet paper, food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, and fire suppression materials, contain PFAS. Since these chemicals appear in many forms, it has become easier for them to enter our bodies. For example, someone may accidentally ingest or inhale a cosmetic product containing PFAS. It is also common for PFAS to find their way into nearby water systems when used in fire suppression, allowing them to enter our bodies when we drink water.
PFAS exposure is so widespread that one report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 97% of Americans had PFAS in their blood. However, as many manufacturers have stopped using PFAS in their products since the early 2000s, PFAS levels in the blood are likely lower today. In addition, while many products may still contain PFAS, people typically need significant exposure before they develop negative consequences.
Is there a PFAS lawsuit?
There are currently many lawsuits involving PFAS exposure. The manufacturing company 3M currently faces about 4,000 cases, many coming from state and local governments. DuPont, and its spinoffs Chemours and Corteva, face another 15,000 claims nationwide. One lawsuit against 3M is underway, having begun on June 5 in a Charleston, South Carolina, Federal Court. The plaintiff in this trial is Stuart, Florida, which is suing 3M over the PFAS-containing firefighting foam that firefighters across the United States use. The plaintiff alleges that 3M failed to properly warn about the risks of PFAS exposure.
In this case alone, the plaintiffs seek $105 million to cover the cleanup costs and up to $500 million in punitive damage. However, this is just the beginning of 3M’s potential financial liability. According to some estimates, 3M could face up to $142.7 billion in cleanup costs across the United States. This does not include any personal injury settlements or verdicts, which could significantly raise the financial cost for 3M. When taken altogether, some estimates suggest that companies such as 3M and Dupont could pay more than the $200 billion paid by Big Tobacco in the 1990s.
This follows previous decisions in PFAS lawsuits. In 2018, 3M agreed to pay an $850 million settlement in Minnesota following claims that PFAS chemicals damaged drinking water and other natural resources. More recently, 3M and DuPont agreed to pay another $100 million to end a PFAS lawsuit in Georgia. In total, PFAS companies have paid more than $11.5 billion in damages for PFAS contamination.
PFAS linked to cancer and liver damage
A reason for the growing number of PFAS lawsuits is the emergence of studies that link PFAS exposure to cancer and other health complications. In addition, internal documents from 3M and DuPont show that these companies knew the risks of PFAS exposure to humans as early as 1961. One study from DuPont in 1970 stated that PFAS could be “highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested.” Since then, there has been growing evidence of the link between PFAS exposure and significant health complications. Below are just a few of the more recent studies on this topic:
Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in a multiethnic cohort
In this first study, published in August 2022, researchers looked at 50 cases of HCC, also known as liver cancer. Within these cases, the researchers examined the levels of PFOS, which is one of the most common types of PFAS. Their analysis concluded that “exposure to high PFOS levels was associated with increased risk of non-viral HCC.” In addition, people in the 90th percentile for PFOS levels in their blood were 4.5 times more likely to develop HCC. The researchers suggest this is due to the high PFOS levels altering amino acid, glucose, and bile acid metabolism.
Toward a mechanistic understanding of poly- and perfluoroalkylated substances and cancer
This next study focused on organizing and interpreting the available literature on PFAS exposure and cancer. After combing through numerous studies, the researchers concluded, “Exposure to PFAS may have adverse, cancer-related health effects.” However, they also caution that “data from animal models and epidemiology studies are not entirely consistent or conclusive.” The researchers also propose a few reasons why PFAS exposure may lead to cancer, including metabolic disruption, effects on endocrine homeostasis, and “hormone-mediated modulations of both the epigenome and the metabolome.”
PFAS and cancer, a scoping review of the epidemiologic evidence
Finally, a third study also aimed to critically review the existing evidence related to PFAS and cancer. To do this, the researchers looked at 16 cohort studies, 10 case-control studies, one cross-section study, and one ecologic study. They found that “cancer sites with the most evidence of an association with PFAS are testicular and kidney cancer.” However, the researchers caution that “the evidence for an association between cancer and PFAS remains sparse.” They conclude that long-term follow-up of large cohort studies will provide more helpful information on the relationship between PFAS and cancer.
PFAS settlement breakdown
There have already been a few settlements in PFAS lawsuits, with more verdicts likely to come. The first big case came in early June 2023, when DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva reached a $1.18 billion agreement with 300 local water systems. These local municipalities sued for damages to cover the costs of cleaning and filtering their wells and aquifers. A few weeks after that decision, 3M reached an even larger arrangement with 300 different water suppliers. This was for $10.3 billion and also sought to provide financial compensation for cleanup and water filtering costs.
However, these combined 600 cases account for only a small fraction of the more than 15,000 claims within multidistrict litigation. In addition, they represent a small portion of the 148,000 public water systems across the country that could also file lawsuits. Finally, individuals may wish to file a lawsuit if they have developed an illness as a result of PFAS contamination or exposure.
Who qualifies for a PFAS lawsuit?
As there are many pending lawsuits concerning PFAS exposure, there are several eligibility criteria. For example, a current class-action lawsuit against 3M includes 300 water systems nationwide. The local governments overseeing these water systems allege that 3M failed to disclose the dangers of PFAS in the environment. A public water system is eligible for this lawsuit if it serves more than 25 people and if there are levels of PFAS within it. It is estimated that there are thousands of such water systems across the country.
In addition to local governments, individuals are also filing PFAS lawsuits. Individuals might be eligible for a lawsuit if they had significant exposure to PFAS, either through product usage or employment. For example, some military service members experienced significant PFAS exposure after frequently using aqueous film-forming foam for firefighting during an extended period.
If you believe you were exposed to PFAS and suffered negative health consequences, you may be eligible for a lawsuit. Three criteria to help determine eligibility are:
- Testing positive for PFAS compounds in the last three years.
- Experiencing negative health effects.
- Working in any of the following areas: airport, military, firefighting, landfill, or manufacturing facility.
Individuals can consult a lawyer to learn more about potential eligibility for a PFAS class-action lawsuit. A lawyer can review the specifics of the situation and help determine eligibility.
Manufacturers and brands involved in PFAS lawsuits
There are several manufacturers and brands involved in the latest PFAS lawsuits. The primary defendants are 3M, DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva. These four manufacturers have paid almost $11.5 billion in damages related to PFAS contamination. These lawsuits largely came from producing aqueous film-forming foam, a fire suppressant chemical containing a large amount of PFAS. When used to suppress fires, it can contaminate the local environment, including the drinking water, and harm those using it.