Lawyers To Plastic Makers: Prepare For ‘Astronomical’ PFAS Lawsuits

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the New York Times: The defense lawyer minced no words as he addressed a room full of plastic-industry executives. Prepare for a wave of lawsuits with potentially “astronomical” costs. Speaking at a conference earlier this year, the lawyer, Brian Gross, said the coming litigation could “dwarf anything related to asbestos,” one of the most sprawling corporate-liability battles in United States history. Mr. Gross was referring to PFAS, the “forever chemicals” that have emerged as one of the major pollution issues of our time. Used for decades in countless everyday objects — cosmetics, takeout containers, frying pans — PFAS have been linked to serious health risks including cancer. Last month the federal government said several types of PFAS must be removed from the drinking water of hundreds of millions of Americans. “Do what you can, while you can, before you get sued,” Mr. Gross said at the February session, according to a recording of the event made by a participant and examined by The New York Times. “Review any marketing materials or other communications that you’ve had with your customers, with your suppliers, see whether there’s anything in those documents that’s problematic to your defense,” he said. “Weed out people and find the right witness to represent your company.”

A wide swath of the chemicals, plastics and related industries are gearing up to fight a surge in litigation related to PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of nearly 15,000 versatile synthetic chemicals linked to serious health problems. […] PFAS-related lawsuits have already targeted manufacturers in the United States, including DuPont, its spinoff Chemours, and 3M. Last year, 3M agreed to pay at least $10 billion to water utilities across the United States that had sought compensation for cleanup costs. Thirty state attorneys general have also sued PFAS manufacturers, accusing the manufacturers of widespread contamination. But experts say the legal battle is just beginning. Under increasing scrutiny are a wider universe of companies that use PFAS in their products. This month, plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against Bic, accusing the razor company for failing to disclose that some of its razors contained PFAS. Bic said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation, and said it had a longstanding commitment to safety.

The Biden administration has moved to regulate the chemicals, for the first time requiring municipal water systems to remove six types of PFAS. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency also designated two of those PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, shifting responsibility for their cleanup at contaminated sites from taxpayers to polluters. Both rules are expected to prompt a new round of litigation from water utilities, local communities and others suing for cleanup costs. “To say that the floodgates are opening is an understatement,” said Emily M. Lamond, an attorney who focuses on environmental litigation at the law firm Cole Schotz. “Take tobacco, asbestos, MTBE, combine them, and I think we’re still going to see more PFAS-related litigation,” she said, referring to methyl tert-butyl ether, a former harmful gasoline additive that contaminated drinking water. Together, the trio led to claims totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.
Unlike tobacco, used by only a subset of the public, “pretty much every one of us in the United States is walking around with PFAS in our bodies,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director for environmental health at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And we’re being exposed without our knowledge or consent, often by industries that knew how dangerous the chemicals were, and failed to disclose that,” he said. “That’s a formula for really significant liability.”

Robin Edgar

Organisational Structures | Technology and Science | Military, IT and Lifestyle consultancy | Social, Broadcast & Cross Media | Flying aircraft