Rhode Island AG Sues Manufacturers of Forever Chemicals

May 26, 2023

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha yesterday filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, for allegedly causing significant harm to the residents and natural resources of Rhode Island.

The suit also alleges the firms engaged in a “massive and widespread campaign to knowingly deceive the public, moving assets to avoid paying for damages they caused, and continuing to manufacture, market, and sell these hazardous chemicals for decades while knowing the risks, and reaping enormous profits in the process.”

In the complaint, filed in Providence County Superior Court, Neronha claims the defendants, including major chemical companies such as 3M and DuPont, have violated state environmental and consumer protection laws, leading to the proliferation of these so-called “forever chemicals.”

Among thousands of other industrial and consumer applications, PFAS were and, in some cases still are, commonly used in a chemical foam used for firefighting and associated training and emergency response at locations such as military and industrial facilities, airports, fire stations and training centers, and other locations throughout Rhode Island.

The suit claims that the use of PFAS in these products has caused or contributed to contamination of the state’s groundwater, drinking water, surface water, air, soil, wetlands, and other natural resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 12,000 PFAS compounds and has concluded that exposure to PFAS may lead to significant negative health effects.

“We are still uncovering the consequences of exposure to these hazardous chemicals by Rhode Islanders, but the burden of this enormous cost should be borne by the companies who made, marketed, and sold these products at great profit, while hiding their true dangers,” said Neronha.

According to the complaint, Rhode Island health and environmental officials, along with researchers from Brown University, have detected significantly elevated concentrations of PFAS chemicals in numerous public water systems and many private wells near areas where these products were known to be used.

There is also likely contamination from numerous military installations, fire-fighting training sites, and industrial sites such as the Naval Station in Newport, Camp Fogarty, Quonset Point, and the Bradford Dyeing Association site in Westerly, according to the filing.

The full expense of remediating the PFAS contamination is still being evaluated. The Attorney General is seeking damages from the defendants to cover the costs of mitigation and remediation of PFAS contamination, as well as punitive damages and disgorgement of profits.

Defendants in this suit include manufacturers of aqueous film-forming foam (3M Co.; Buckeye Fire Equipment Co.; Chemguard Inc.; National Foam, Inc.; Tyco Fire Products LP); manufacturers of intermediate ingredients used in AFFF (AGC Chemicals Americas, Inc.; Amerex Corp.; Archroma U.S. Inc.; Arkema, Inc.; ChemDesign Products, Inc.; Clariant Corp.; EIDP (Old DuPont); The Chemours Co.), related entities to primary defendants who may hold historic liabilities (BASF Corp.; Carrier Fire & Security Americas Corp.; Carrier Global Corp.; Corteva Inc.; DuPont de Nemours Inc.; Kidde PLC, Inc.) and Doe defendants.

Rhode Island’s General Assembly recently passed several laws related to drinking water standards, prohibiting food packaging containing PFAS, and monitoring of groundwater and discharge. State legislators are currently considering several new bills that would prohibit or restrict usage of these chemicals.

PFAS are widely used in consumer products including food packaging, cookware, clothing, carpets, shoes, fabrics, polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in firefighting foams designed to quickly smother liquid fuel fires. These so-called “forever chemicals” are stable in the environment, resistant to degradation, persistent in soil, and known to leach into groundwater.