Healey sues PFAS manufacturers
Seeks money to pay for environmental remediation
ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey has filed a lawsuit against 13 manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, arguing that they deceptively marketed and sold chemicals that were dangerous to the environment and to individuals’ health. She also sued two companies she alleges shielded the manufacturers’ assets through corporate transactions designed to avoid legal liability.
“I am suing today to hold these manufacturers accountable, require them to pay the growing costs these communities are shouldering, and repair our state’s precious natural resources that have been damaged by these illegal actions,” Healey said.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in South Carolina, where it will be joined with hundreds of other lawsuits filed by states, municipalities, water districts, and individuals before a single federal judge.
The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers knowingly deceived buyers – including state and local governments, fire departments, businesses, and residents – about the dangers of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These include environmental dangers like water contamination, and health dangers, since PFAS chemicals are known to cause serious diseases, including certain types of cancer.
“These toxic and persistent ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating countless water supplies and requiring massive efforts and expenditures of funds to investigate, treat, and remediate the contamination of the Commonwealth’s natural resources,” according to the lawsuit.
The actions of the companies, Healey said at a press conference, “violate state and federal laws that are intended to protect residents, and place costly burdens on communities that are now forced to clean up this mess.” She said the companies not only failed to disclose the harms cause by these chemicals, they played down the dangers. “Manufacturers attempted to hide how dangerous the foam was,” she said.
The lawsuit has support from the Baker administration. Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection attended the press conference and said money obtained through the lawsuit could help the state and municipalities clean up the damage caused by the chemicals. “With this legal action, the Commonwealth is taking an important step to help us and those communities that are currently bearing the burden of addressing this pollution,” Suuberg said.
According to the lawsuit, PFAS has contaminated more than 126 public drinking water systems in 86 Massachusetts communities. Chemicals have contaminated the Shawsheen River, a tributary of the Merrimack, and coastal areas like Cape Cod and Cape Ann.
These products have been sold in the US since the 1960s. The lawsuit says the manufacturers falsely advertised these foams as safe, while knowing they were toxic and environmentally harmful. One company, 3M, tested employees’ blood as early as the 1970s after it became concerned about the health impacts of PFAS chemicals, but hid the information from consumers, according to Healey’s lawsuit. DuPont, in 1981, studied eight pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals, and found that two had babies with birth defects. DuPont’s own review board raised concerns about adverse health impacts and, in response to a 2004 administrative action by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the company agreed to pay a $16 million fine for failing to disclose its products’ toxicity.
Even when companies switched to safer formulas, they never warned consumers about the dangers of the older products, Healey said. She also alleges they submitted false information to the US Environmental Protection Agency and tried to prevent workers from discussing the risks associated with the chemicals, while taking steps to protect their assets and avoid liability.
The lawsuit demands an unspecified amount of money to clean up, restore, and treat PFAS contamination and to reimburse the state for the damage. It seeks to hold the manufacturers responsible for remediating and monitoring the state’s water supplies, rivers, and soil. Healey said the costs of environmental remediation as well as the cost to public health could total “in the billions” of dollars.
The lawsuit was filed soon after a special legislative commission released a report recommending that Massachusetts gradually phase out the use of PFAS in consumer products. The report also recommends seeking legal action against the manufacturers, as has been done in other states, to seek money to pay for the remediation.
Today, the burden of cleaning up chemicals falls mostly on state and federal governments. According to Baker’s office, the administration has spent over $110 million addressing PFAS contamination since 2015. That includes establishing strict standards for PFAS in drinking water and awarding funding to public water suppliers to address PFAS contamination.
House speaker pro tempore Kate Hogan, a Stow Democrat who co-chaired the PFAS task force, said many communities in her region are struggling with PFAS contamination in their drinking water, due to the proximity of water sources to firefighter or military installations. It is hard and expensive for communities to find the best way to remediate the damage, she said. “At present the cost of PFAS cleanup in drinking water is born by very same homeowners, taxpayers, and ratepayers who discovered PFAS in drinking water,” Hogan said. Hogan said it is “critical” to pursue state-level litigation to force the manufacturers to remediate or pay for remediation in these communities.Task force co-chair Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat, said the lawsuit “is really going to begin to garner the true resources we need to address the issue, and to have those responsible for these effects paying for it.”
Representatives of local firefighters’ unions, municipal governments, and environmental advocacy groups all joined Healey’s press conference and voiced support for the lawsuit.