What are PFAS?
Perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of thousands of synthetic harmful chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and in our bodies, according to the U.S. EPA .
Chemists at 3M and Dupont first developed PFAS chemicals by accident in the 1930s when researching carbon-based chemical reactions. During one experiment, an unusual coating remained in the testing chamber, which upon further testing was shown to be completely resistant to any methods designed to break apart the atoms within the chemical.
The material also had a long half life and the incredible ability to repel oil and water. Dupont later called this substance PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which became the first PFAS ever invented. After World War II, Dupont commercialized PFOA into the revolutionary product that the company branded “Teflon.”
3M later invented its own PFAS chemical – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which the company commercialized and branded as “Scotchgard.” Various PFAS levels were soon used in hundreds of consumer products – today, that number is in the thousands.
The same physical characteristics that make PFAS useful in commercial applications also make them highly persistent and mobile in the environment and the human body – hence the nickname, “forever chemicals.”
While the science is still developing regarding the extent of possible effects on public health risks, recent studies have found that PFOA and PFOS are capable of causing certain types of cancer, liver and kidney issues, immunological problems, and reproductive and developmental harm.
Where are PFAS Found?
PFAS compound can be found in:
- Food packaged in PFAS-contaminated materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated water.
- Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams.
- Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing process, oil recovery, paper mill) that use PFAS.
- Drinking water supplies, e.g. landfills, wastewater treatment plants, firefighter training facilities.
- Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans.
What's the Problem with PFAS?
PFAS is a dangerous toxic chemical that people come into contact with everyday through the use of various common household products, as well as through our food and drinking water.
PFAS does not break down naturally and it is impossible to destroy. Therefore, certain PFAS can potentially contaminate our environment and food forever.
PFAS is also water soluble, which means it can easily leak from affected sites, such as military bases and landfills, and contaminate our soil and drinking water supply.
A recent study found at least 1,582 sites in 49 states currently identified as in some way PFAS polluted, including military bases, municipal water supplies, and others.
There is mounting evidence that certain PFAS contamination is particularly dangerous to humans, as the toxic substances can interfere with the body’s hormones and immune system, and may play a role in certain cancers.
PFAS Health Effects
The accumulation of PFAS contamination in ground and drinking water, animals and people can have significant and substantial adverse health effects including:
- Kidney and Testicular Cancer
- Liver damage
- Thyroid disease
- Decreased fertility
- High cholesterol
- Hormone suppression
- Low birth weights
- And more
Source: Disease Registry
What Do PFAS Chemicals Do To The Body?
Exposure to PFAS contamination can lead to adverse public health outcomes in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If humans or animals ingest poly fluoroalkyl substances, the "forever chemicals" are absorbed and can accumulate in the body. PFAS contamination stays in the human body for long periods of time. As a result, as people are exposed to PFAS from different sources over time, the level of poly fluoroalkyl substances in their bodies may increase until they suffer adverse health effects.
Studies have found that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in humans and animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies.
The most consistent findings from epidemiological studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with additional findings related to infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).
Animals studies have found effects on thyroid hormone disruption, reproductive organs and tissues, developing fetus, and kidney. Based on dose-response information, the thyroid appears to be particularly sensitive to oral exposure to PFAS.
PFAS and Cancer
The EPA has determined there is some evidence that PFAS contamination can cause cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and state law have classified PFOA as a potential human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance); however, there is currently no consistent scientific evidence that PFOS and PFOA cause cancer in humans.
Some animal studies have suggested an increased risk of certain cancers, such as prostate, kidney, or testicular cancer. Humans and animals often react differently to chemicals (including PFAS contamination) and not all the effects seen in animal tests may occur in humans.
Some increases in kidney, prostate, and testicular cancers have been seen in individuals exposed to higher PFAS contamination, mostly in occupational exposures. Most of these exposures were in people who worked in, or lived near, PFAS manufacturing process facilities.
What Does the Environmental Protection Agency Know About PFAS Blood Levels?
The CDC's National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals has found that serum levels of PFAS contamination appear to be higher in the United States than in some other countries.
For the average person in the U.S., the PFAS exposure level is 2,100 to 6,300 ng/L per liter of blood, which is equal to 30 to 90 shot glasses (1.5 oz) in approximately 150 million gallons of water contamination, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act. These levels have been shown to be higher if a person’s drinking water source is contaminated with PFAS, or if a person is exposed at a workplace that produces the PFAS contamination.
Can PFAS Be Removed From the Body?
Currently, there are no medical monitoring procedures that can remove PFAS contamination from the body. However, the best step you can take is to remove the source of exposure to PFAS compounds from your environment. While PFAS cannot be removed from the body, you should avoid packaged foods, personal grooming products, and non-stick cookware.
How are PFAS Regulated by the Government?
In recent years, several state and local governments have begun enforcing environmental laws against manufacturers and commercial users to compel them to clean up widespread exposure to PFAS.
In MDEQ v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc., the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) sued a shoe and boot manufacturer, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief directing it to:
- Investigate the extent and location of its releases;
- Develop and implement plans to sample and analyze affected drinking water sources, and
- Provide alternative safe drinking water to residents affected by the contamination.
MDEQ’s claims included a claim pursuant to the citizen’s enforcement provision of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a claim under the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, and a claim for common law nuisance.
In December 2019, the Michigan Attorney General announced that the case had settled for $69.5 million. Several additional cases filed by state and local governments against PFAS manufacturers and commercial users remain pending.
Given the ubiquity of PFAS environmental contamination, and that the EPA has begun to focus on products that contain PFAS as a serious persistent environmental contaminant, additional enforcement actions are likely in the future.
What is the difference between PFOA, PFOS and GenX?
There are many products that contain PFAS, including GenX chemicals and PFBS in use across the United States.
GenX is a trade name for a technology that is used to make high performance fluoropolymers (certain non-stick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). HFPO dimer acid and its ammonium salt are the major chemicals contained in GenX technology.
GenX chemicals have been found in surface water, groundwater, finished drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions in some areas, according the EPA.
Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) has been used as a replacement chemical for PFOS. PFBS is contained in environmental media and consumer products including surface water, wastewater, drinking water, dust, carpeting and carpet cleaners and floor wax.
What Levels of PFAS in Water are Considered Harmful?
The Environmental Protection Agency Liability Act has developed a lifetime drinking water health advisory level (HAL) for PFOA and/ or PFOS of 70 ng/L, which is roughly equivalent to a shot glass (1.5 oz) in approximately 150 million gallons of water. Drinking water at or below this standard for a lifetime is not expected to harm your health.
If tests find that your drinking water contain PFAS above the EPA HAL, use other water sources for drinking, preparing food, cooking, brushing teeth, and other uses when you might swallow water. Because the health advisory level and property value is based upon long-term PFAS exposure, a short-term increase above the HAL should not increase risk significantly.
What To Do if There Are High Levels of PFAS in Your Drinking Water
If you find that there are high levels of PFAS in your drinking water, do not attempt to boil and drink the water, as doing so will cause the chemical to become concentrated. Instead, switch to bottled water or other FDA-approved filtration systems that do not contain PFAS. Consider using another safe source of water for brushing, food preparation, and other household activities that involves you ingesting the water.
Multiple studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)  and the U.S. EPA have concluded that PFAS are highly toxic and hazardous to the environment and human health.
PFAS chemicals have the ability to travel long distances, which increases the likelihood that communities around PFAS manufacturing, or facilities using PFAS containing chemicals, are likely to be exposed to PFAS.
Insurance Coverage Issues Pertaining to PFAS
Because PFAS have been used for decades in the U.S., both legacy general liability policies and remediation efforts may potentially be implicated for a given claim. For a claim under legacy policies, it will be important to determine whether there is a prior environmental settlement agreement that might apply to the claims.
Another key consideration for those exposed to PFAS is the status of policy limits. Many PFAS claims are being filed under a product liability theory.
It is important to determine whether there has been any impairment or exhaustion of the products aggregate limits in the policies in question, especially under legacy policies, which typically contained products aggregates, but in some cases did not contain aggregates for premises and operations exposures.
Another major issue is the potential application of pollution exclusions or other exclusions for personal injury for those exposed to PFAS. Careful attention must be paid to whether such exclusions would be held to apply to claims for personal injury resulting from exposure to PFAS under the relevant facts and the applicable law.
Other potentially important coverage issues are whether there is “bodily injury” to those exposed to PFAS, and when that personal injury occurs for purposes of “triggering” insurance coverage. Many of the cases filed to date include claims for medical monitoring and lower birth weights, which presents its own set of issues. Because PFAS claims are typically “long-tail” in nature, allocation of defense and/or indemnity costs could be a significant issue.
Pollution Liability Insurance
Pollution liability policies have been around for decades, and while they take on many different forms and contain different coverage grants, they are also more specialized to different industries or insureds. This is why close attention should be paid to the coverage grant in policies, including whether a policy is written on a “claims made” or “occurrence” basis.
However, other pollution liability policies are written on an “occurrence” basis for “product pollution, hostile fire and contractors’ pollution liability” claims.
If there are underlying PFAS claims for products liability, there is a potential for coverage under such pollution liability policies.
In most cases, this coverage is potentially “triggered” only to the extent that the “pollution condition” or the “personal injury” or “property damage” first take place during the policy period.
This raises the question of when that “pollution condition,” “personal injury” or “property damage” first took place.
- The State of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against 3M in 2010 alleging that the company’s production of PFAS chemicals in cleaning products damaged drinking water, tap water and property values in military installations in the Twin Cities metro region. The claim was settled in Feb. 2018 for $850 million.
- At least 3,550 plaintiffs from West Virginia filed a suit against DuPont and the Chemours Company alleging that 210 occurrences of kidney cancer, 70 occurrences of testicular cancer, and 1,430 occurrences of thyroid disease were linked to PFAS contamination in tap water. The parties reached a $921 million settlement.
- Daikin America Inc., and 3M were sued over PFAS chemicals the companies used at their production plants in Decatur, Alabama. The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority settled with Daikin for $4 million.
- Three proposed class action suits were filed by residents who consumed PFAS contaminated water from the Cape Fear River and wells near the Fayetteville Works Facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Related: Product Liability Lawsuits
Tyco Fire to Pay $17.5 Million in Damages Over PFAS Contamination
Tyco Fire Products LP has agreed to pay $17.5 million to resolve claims from about 300 Wisconsin homeowners alleging that their private drinking wells were contaminated by PFAS in firefighter foam, according to Law360.
Lead plaintiffs John and Richard Campbell accused Tyco Fire Products and its predecessor Ansul Co. of designing and testing AFFF at the Ansul Fire Technology Center in Marinette, Wisconsin, and then contaminating local water in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
The settlement includes $15 million for property-damage-related claims and $2.5 million for personal injuries including testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
The case is just 1 of dozens moving forward as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in South Carolina state court.
PFAS Tort Litigation
The case that laid the groundwork for modern day PFAS litigation was Leach v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., No. 01-C-698 (Wood County W. Va. Cir. Ct.), which was a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of approximately 80,000 residents who lived in close proximity to DuPont’s Washington Works manufacturing complex.
Plaintiffs in the class action alleged that they had suffered personal injury from water contaminated by the chemical C-8 (PFOA), a type of PFAS that is used in the manufacturing of Teflon.
The Leach action and the Washington Works facility are the subject of the 2019 feature film “Dark Waters.”
In 2005, the court approved a settlement agreement under which DuPont was required to fund a health project to gather data from the class members and a panel of three epidemiologists jointly chosen by the parties (the Science Panel), to analyze that data, and to determine whether a “probable link” existed between PFAS exposure and any diseases.
In 2011, the Science Panel determined that a probable link existed between PFAS exposure and kidney / testicular cancer, pregnancy induced hypertension, preeclampsia, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol.
Approximately 3,500 members of the original Leach class subsequently filed personal injury and wrongful death suits in Ohio and West Virginia courts. Those suits were consolidated into MDL 2433 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in In Re: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. C-8 Personal Injury Litigation.
DuPont took three bell weather cases to trial: Bartlett v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Freeman v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., and Vigneron v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. All three resulted in substantial plaintiffs’ verdicts.
Eventually, DuPont and its successor at the Washington Works facility, the Chemours Company, settled the remaining cases in MDL 2433 for $671 million.
Additional class plaintiffs would later file new cases in the MDL, which are still active.
PFAS Class Action Lawsuit
Since PFAS is a toxic chemical that has been in use for decades in the U.S., there is no one class-action lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers. However, several high-profile class-action lawsuits have been filed over the past few years, with new lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers being filed regularly.
There is also a PFAS class-action lawsuit targeting several manufacturers of PFAS, including 3M, DuPont, Solvay, and others, which is potentially open to any people who have a detectable concentration of PFAS in their blood and claim to have injuries from PFAS exposure.
The lead plaintiff in this case is a firefighter.
Additionally, many states and municipal governments are filing suits against PFAS manufacturers and other responsible parties for polluting water and the environment, with some already calling PFAS the “new asbestos.”
What is AFFF?
Firefighters, including those stationed at military bases and airports, use a particular type of chemical-based foam to extinguish fires more effectively.
Known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), many of these products are made with the toxic chemicals, PFOS and PFAS. PFOS and PFAS have been linked to various health conditions, including an elevated risk of cancer and stunted growth in children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Working Group (EWG) have reported that aqueous film forming foam may be associated with cancer. Many municipal fire departments have ceased using firefighter foam containing PFAS, but military bases throughout the country continue to use the AFFF foam.
What's the Problem?
U.S. military personnel have been using AFFF foam for almost 60 years and firefighters at airports were required by the Federal Aviation Administration to use the foam until 2018.
A local health department identified over 400 military sites that are potentially exposed to fire fighting foams.
In 2018, a federal inquiry determined that PFAS are more dangerous than previously reported and prompted revised recommendations for safe levels of exposure to the compounds.
Lawsuits have been filed against AFFF manufacturers for failing to warn users that exposure to the chemicals contained in foam could lead to various cancers.
The EPA announced that New Jersey filed a lawsuit against companies for knowingly producing and selling products containing toxic foam in New Jersey for decades.
According to the lawsuit, which asserts both environmental and consumer fraud claims, corporations manufactured and sold AFFF products that contain PFOA and PFOS chemicals to firefighters even though they were aware of the health and environmental risks posed by these chemicals when they are released into the environment.
AFFF Health Hazards
- Kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumors
- Prostate cancer
- And more
Which Occupations are at Risk of Toxic Chemicals?
Airport and military firefighters are at a particularly high risk for AFFF health hazards. Until 2018, the Federal Airport Administration (FAA) required airports to use PFAS-containing foam per U.S. Navy guidelines.
The Navy and other branches of the military have used AFFF foam since the 1960s, even during training exercises and non-critical missions.
Who Else May Be At Risk of AFFF Exposure?
Individuals who are not employed in any of these high-risk occupations may also be exposed to AFFF foam. Residents living in areas near firefighter foam use or disposal are also at risk of experiencing AFFF-related health effects.
AFFF exposure may also result from groundwater contamination or the contamination of municipal water in areas that have been affected by foam.
Is Aqueous Film Forming Foam Still Used?
Unfortunately, toxic PFAS-based foam is still being used at a variety of airports across the country, both for military and commercial use.
However, the Department of Defense is researching safe PFAS-free foam alternatives and has limited the use of AFFF to emergency responses.
How is AFFF Firefighting Foam Contaminating the Water?
Because PFAS can permeate ground water and soil, they have contaminated water in cities across the United States.
AFFF gets into the environment once the foam is discharged and released during use and due to spills and leaks which occur in AFFF storage locations.
AFFF can contaminate the soil, surface water, and groundwater, and the residual materials can enter drain systems and discharge to remote locations.
Are Lawsuits Being Filed?
Yes. A growing number of firefighters have filed lawsuits claiming that toxic chemicals in AFFF foam have caused them to develop cancer, according to 2021 court filings.
In addition to individual AFFF lawsuits filed by current and former firefighters, a Texas man filed a class action over toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as well as contamination from facilities that use AFFF in January 2021.
As of January 2021, there were more than 950 pending claims in multidistrict litigation in South Carolina federal court under MDL-2873 IN RE: Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation. This number is up from 820 claims reported in DuPont’s annual report ending Dec. 31, 2020.
Injuries claimed in the lawsuits include breast cancer, ulcerative colitis, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cysts, tumors and other illnesses.
Lawsuits say defendant companies — including 3M, DuPont and Chemours — knew per and polyfluoroalkyl substances in its foam contained dangerous chemicals that could cause buildup in the body and result in adverse health effects.
In addition to individual injury lawsuits, several states have sued 3M and other AFFF manufacturers for PFAS contamination and cost of AFFF clean up.
Have There Been Any Settlements?
The current litigation isn’t the first time AFFF companies have faced lawsuits related to dangerous chemicals in PFAS.
In 2017, DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay $670.7 million to settle 3,550 injury lawsuits stemming from PFOA environmental pollution from the Washington Works Plant in West Virginia. The companies denied wrongdoing.
Since then, the companies have faced dozens more cases.
In March 2020, an Ohio jury said DuPont had to pay $50 million to Travis Abbot, a man who said PFOA-contaminated drinking water led him to develop testicular cancer, according to Bloomberg.
What Compensation Could I Be Awarded?
Our legal team strives to maximize compensation for AFFF exposure.
Claimants may be eligible for money damages to compensate for past and ongoing medical expenses, lost income, loss of future earnings, permanent disability, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.
The specific facts of your case will determine the value of your AFFF cancer lawsuit.
Multi-billion dollar manufacturers like DuPont and 3M have sold AFFF for decades, despite evidence that the product’s chemicals posed grave long-term risks to human health.
When companies place profits over consumer safety, and fail to warn the public of known risks, they should be held accountable for their actions.
To be held liable for AFFF exposure, it must be proven that the defendants were negligent in the design, testing, manufacturing, or marketing of their products, and that this negligence resulted in actual injuries and financial losses.
See the other related toxic tort lawsuits we've taken on.
What Does it Cost to Hire a PFAS Attorney?
If you are thinking of filing a claim against a PFAS manufacturer, you might worry about the cost of hiring a PFAS attorney.
In a PFAS class-action lawsuit, the attorney fees are typically spread out among all plaintiffs.
In most cases, a court will determine court costs and attorney’s fees, and how they should be paid.
There are usually no up-front attorney’s fees for such cases, as the attorneys usually take their fee from any settlement recovered.
Therefore, joining in with a PFAS class-action lawsuit should not cost you anything out of your own pocket as any fees should come out of the general settlement for all plaintiffs.
Sometimes, the defendant is ordered to pay for the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and court costs.
If a class-action lawsuit is lost, the law firms typically do not receive any compensation as they usually work on a contingency basis.
Get a Free PFAS Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Product Liability Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in PFAS Lawsuits. Our law firm is handling individual PFAS litigation nationwide and currently accepting new legal challenges in all 50 states.
If you or a loved one was injured by PFAS contamination, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.