Bellwether Forever Chemicals case goes to trial

The 3M company, which has been a major producer of what are known as “chemicals forever,” is staring at what could be a test case for whether it faces liability for water contamination caused by the chemicals. toxic.

Next week, the city of Stuart, Florida’s claims against 3M go to trial.

This case is just one of hundreds that have been grouped together. Each involves claims about the use of a group of toxic chemicals, also called “PFAS,” found in firefighting foam.

The case of the town of Stuart, which has about 18,000 residents, was chosen last year as the group’s first “sample” case to go to trial.

Bellwether cases are often viewed as trial cases where both accusers and defendants can see how legal matters will play out and make decisions regarding future litigation accordingly.

“This is truly the first time a case is against 3M – the other major contributor to PFAS contamination in the world -[and] it will go to trial,” Gary Douglas, the lead trial attorney representing the city, told The Hill, noting that chemical company DuPont has already faced trial.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals that have been linked to health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid problems, and high cholesterol.

In addition to their use in fire foam, they can also be found in a variety of nonstick, waterproof, and stain-resistant products, including Teflon pans.

PFAS have become pervasive over the years. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, they can be found in the blood of 97% of Americans. Meanwhile, an analysis last year found the substances present in 83% of stream samples tested.

They have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they tend to linger in human bodies and the environment instead of breaking down.

The city alleges in its lawsuit that the company “knowingly and willfully” produced firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals when they knew or should have known that they would “pollute drinking water supplies, render drinking water unusable and/or unsafe, and threatened public health and well-being”.

“We intend to prove that 3M is responsible for contaminating virtually the entire planet, including Stuart’s water, and has withheld information from the public and the EPA,“Douglas said, adding” and therefore they should be held to account for their conduct “.

The company in court denied the claims, saying in a filing that they were “incomplete and/or incorrect descriptions of complex scientific and technical matters.”

Additionally, company spokesman Sean Lynch provided an emailed statement to The Hill saying the foam that contained the chemicals was a “critical tool” developed by the Navy with support from 3M.

The statement added that the foam met “an important need for military service members and other first responders facing potentially high-risk and life-threatening challenges.”

Lynch also provided a more general statement explaining that 3M has “and will continue to take actions consistent with our values, including PFAS remediation, water treatment investments and partnerships with communities.”

Douglas said the trial would focus on the costs the city incurs in cleaning up its water, rather than contesting any specific health issues claimed by residents. She said this trial is likely to be followed by another water supplier case and that individual personal injury claims should follow.

3M, meanwhile, said last year it would stop making PFAS and phase it out of its products by the end of 2025.

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