More than half of US State Attorneys General have taken action against PFAS manufacturers and key users
August 24, 2023
This year alone, 13 AGs initiated lawsuits against “forever chemicals”—totaling 27 AGs taking action to date
Safer States applauds Attorneys Generals’ actions to hold polluters accountable and secure resources to help clean up communities
PORTLAND, OR—The Attorney General of South Carolina recently became the 26th in the nation to initiate action against PFAS manufacturers for contamination of the environment and harming public health. This year alone, a bipartisan group of Attorneys General (AGs) from 12 states and the District of Columbia have filed litigation against chemical manufacturers over PFAS substances including Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. And, more than a dozen other AGs have announced cases in prior years, bringing the total number of AGs taking action against PFAS to 27 to date.
Currently, four states have reached settlements in their cases. Minnesota settled its lawsuit in 2018 followed by Delaware (reaching a settlement as a result of an AG investigation in 2021). Earlier in 2023, Michigan settled one of its lawsuits with Asahi Kasei Plastics Inc., and most recently, New Jersey announced a proposed settlement with Solvay for $393 million.
The cost to manage the harm created by PFAS chemicals is estimated to be much larger than the recent proposed settlement of $10.3 billion by PFAS manufacturers 3M, as well as the $1.8 billion proposed settlement with Dow, Dupont, and Chemours. Recently, 22 AGs publicly opposed the proposed settlement because “it lets manufacturer 3M Co. off too easily.” In 3M’s home state, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that it will cost between $14 billion and $28 billion to clean up PFAS in just Minnesota. Politico reported that cleaning up PFAS in drinking water nationwide could cost $400 billion. This year, states including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin allocated funding to address PFAS contamination, and Maine finalized a $70 million plan to assist farmers.
Health advocates, legislators, and families impacted by PFAS contamination applaud AG actions and anticipate more Attorneys General, government and corporate actions to follow. Safer States released the following statements in response to this news.
“This is another example of how states are in the lead when it comes to addressing the PFAS crisis,” said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “These efforts⸺to hold PFAS manufacturers accountable⸺complement the robust state policies that are being adopted nationwide, aimed at preventing exposures and providing support to communities impacted by this pollution.”
The family of Amara Strande, a PFAS activist whose life was cut short by a cancer she believed was caused by exposure to PFAS in her community, released a statement that Amara wrote shortly before her death:
“I care about this issue because it has personally changed the direction of my life and the life of those around me. PFAS robbed my sister and I of a normal childhood in our teenage years. But, it is not just about me. It is about the health and safety of all of us. We must come together to demand change and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”
Amara died two days short of her 21st birthday and her advocacy in Minnesota led to the passage of Amara’s Law, the most comprehensive law to address PFAS in the country.
“As Senate Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, PFAS contamination has dominated our committee's work over the last 3 years,” said Maine State Senator Stacy Brenner (D-Scarborough). “Maine is spending millions of dollars to deal with the PFAS crisis at our sewer treatment districts and on our contaminated farms. Maine should not be footing the bill for PFAS contaminating on our farmland and in our drinking water. I’m grateful Attorney General Frey is taking action to hold polluters accountable. The high monetary and public health costs for clean-up and remediation should fall on the chemical companies who are responsible for the toxic contamination, not Mainers.”
BACKGROUND ON PFAS CHEMICALS
Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. These toxic compounds are also widely used in industrial processes and then discharged into waterways. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS has been found in breast milk and in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they persist and don’t break down in the environment. Research has found that 3M knew in the 1970s that PFOA and PFOS are dangerous.
PFAS in drinking water: State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to establish enforceable standards or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for certain PFAS in drinking water. Ten states (ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, and WI) have established such standards. Maine has an interim standard that is in effect and enforceable while they go through rule-making to establish final PFAS MCLs. Delaware and Virginia have also begun the process of establishing enforceable standards for certain PFAS. Other states have adopted guidance levels, notification levels, and/or health advisories for PFAS in drinking water.
PFAS in products: State governments are also taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME, MN, and WA have given state agencies the authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. Twelve states including CA, CO, CT, HI, ME, MD, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT, and WA have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging. Eight states including CA, CO, ME, MD, MN, NY, VT, and WA have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs, aftermarket treatments, and/or upholstered furniture. CA and NY adopted restrictions on PFAS in apparel and CO adopted restrictions on oil and gas products. CA, CO, and MN are phasing out PFAS in children’s products, and VT has banned PFAS in ski wax. MN also restricted PFAS in menstrual products, cleaning ingredients, cookware, and dental floss. Six states including CA, CO, MD, MN, OR, and WA are taking action to eliminate PFAS in cosmetics. Twelve states including CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, MN, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS.
Retailers restricting PFAS: Retailers are also aligning with state-level efforts to regulate PFAS in products, adopting comprehensive policies to phase out these hazardous chemicals, according to the Retailer Report Card. Target has committed to eliminating PFAS from a wide array of its products, spanning textiles, cosmetics, and cookware. Leading brands like REI, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Patagonia are actively reducing PFAS in textiles. Lowe's and The Home Depot have committed to stop selling PFAS-containing carpets and rugs, with Lowe's discontinuing PFAS-laden fabric protection sprays. More than a dozen grocery and fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Ahold Delhaize, and Whole Foods Market have adopted policies restricting PFAS in food packaging. The leading electronics brand Apple announced plans to phase PFAS out of its products and manufacturing processes and to develop safer alternatives. IKEA was one of the first major retailers to ban PFAS in its products globally. Currently, over 30 major retailers with more than 160,000 stores and more than $770 billion in sales have committed to eliminating or reducing PFAS in food packaging, textiles, cosmetics, and/or other products.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future. www.saferstates.org