Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Thursday that the state would be suing 18 chemical companies, including 3M and Dupont, over the hazards of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), charging that the companies had covered up their harmful effects and that they had caused irreparable harm to the environment.
For years, there has been growing concern over the use of PFAS chemicals (also known as “forever” chemicals), which are used in everything from fire retardants to non-stick pans, and how they relate to increased environmental and health risks including kidney and liver damage, decreased immune system function, interference with vaccine uptake, developmental and reproductive harm, and increased risk of cancer and asthma. PFAS regulations in California have been growing in the last several years, including bills limiting the chemical from being in everything from food packaging to cosmetics, with Governor Gavin Newsom even signing into law a bill that bans PFAS chemicals from new fabrics and textiles with limited exemptions in September.
While legislation banned many PFAS uses, no legislation went after the companies producing them for the negative effects on the environment and in California residents. And, with internal documents showing that the companies knew of the dangers, and recent studies finding PFAS in the bloodstream of 98% of Californians, the state took action on Thursday and sued the 18 companies.
“PFAS are as ubiquitous in California as they are harmful,” said Attorney General Bonta on Thursday. “As a result of a decades-long campaign of deception, PFAS are in our waters, our clothing, our houses, and even our bodies. The damage caused by 3M, DuPont, and other manufacturers of PFAS is nothing short of staggering, and without drastic action, California will be dealing with the harms of these toxic chemicals for generations. Today’s lawsuit is the result of a years-long investigation that found that the manufacturers of PFAS knowingly violated state consumer protection and environmental laws. We won’t let them off the hook for the pernicious damage done to our state.”
The Bonta suit
In addition, the press release noted, “Attorney General Bonta alleges that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the dangers of PFAS when they made and/or sold products containing them and that the manufacturers’ failed to warn about the dangers of PFAS and in many cases concealed them. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, penalties, restitution, and abatement. Requested relief includes statewide treatment and destruction of PFAS, including, but not limited to, the treatment of drinking water by regulated water systems; water drawn from private wells and unregulated systems used for drinking water and irrigation; and water from other wastewater treatment plants and systems. The lawsuit also seeks payment of funds necessary to mitigate the impacts to human health and the environment through environmental testing, medical monitoring, public noticing, replacement water (for period between testing and installation of treatment), and safe disposal and destruction.”
In response to the State of California v. 3M et.al lawsuit, the chemical companies being sued have countered that they will defend themselves against California’s allegations.
“3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will defend its record of environmental stewardship,” said 3M in a statement on Thursday.
In addition, many lawyers have questioned if California will have enough weight to force the companies to do anything.
“California seems to have plenty of evidence, but there is a lot up in the air,” explained Los Angeles environmental lawyer Kyle McDonald to the Globe. “Also, the state has put all their cards on the table. The companies have not, so once the state sees everything, including their full environmental record of PFAS, they could change their tune. We see this a lot in discovery.
“California also has to worry about the companies taking it to the higher courts, as they are bending more conservative these days, especially the Supreme Court. They should not be looking at this like it is an easy win.”
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