Equilibrium & Sustainability

Wisconsin sues ‘forever chemicals’ manufacturers for ‘widespread contamination’

Tony Evers
FILE – Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Feb. 15, 2022. Evers on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, issued an executive order declaring that an abnormal economic disruption exists in Wisconsin due to a disruption of energy supplies, allowing him to trigger a state ban on price gouging of gasoline and diesel. (AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)

Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit against 18 companies over the manufacturing and marketing of toxic “forever chemicals,” alleging that these firms engaged in the “widespread contamination” of the state’s “property and natural resources.”

“Every Wisconsinite should be able to trust the water that comes out of their tap,” Gov. Tony Evers (D) said at a live-streamed press conference on Wednesday morning.

“But unfortunately, we know that for so many across our state, including folks right here on French Island, this isn’t always the case,” Evers said.

Evers was speaking in the town of La Crosse on French Island — a Mississippi River island that has long experienced such contamination, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

These cancer-linked compounds, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are notorious for their long-term ability to linger in both the human body and the environment.

“The state is filing a lawsuit against three manufacturers and 15 other defendants for wrongful and deceptive acts that directly led to PFAS contamination of Wisconsin’s water, property and natural resources,” Evers said. 

The lawsuit, filed by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul in Dane County, alleges that the defendants knew or should have known that the ordinary and intended use of their products could cause dangerous public health and environmental impacts.

“The science is clear: Exposure to certain PFAS and the environment can be damaging to human health,” Evers said. 

There are thousands of types of PFAS, which are most infamous for their presence in industrial discharge and firefighting foam but are also key ingredients in many household items. PFAS are linked to a variety of illnesses, such as thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.

Among the defendants named are 3M, DuPont, The Chemours Company and Tyco Fire Products. Others include E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, The Chemours Company FC, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Kidde-Fenwal, National Foam, Chemguard, Amerex Corporation, Chemdesign Products, BASF Corporation, Dynax Corporation, Archroma U.S., Carrier Global Corporation, UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation and Clariant Corporation.

The lawsuit alleges that these companies “are liable for designing, manufacturing, marketing, promoting, distributing, selling, using, and/or disposing of PFAS products in ways that cause widespread PFAS contamination.”

“These manufacturers knew or should have known that their products could harm public health, pollute our waters and our natural resources,” Evers said.

“But rather than warning consumers and users of associated risk and harms from their products and PFAS, these polluters concealed these dangers and even downplayed them to our families, communities and Wisconsinites,” the governor added.

Accusing the companies of “carelessness” and his political opponents of “inaction,” Evers said that Wisconsin taxpayers are now “on the hook for over a billion dollars” to address the contamination.

The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants “took measures to protect the health of their own employees, but did not notify the public of the danger that PFAS contamination caused over the last several years in Wisconsin,” according to Kaul, who spoke alongside the governor.

While the attorney general stressed that the most important tool for addressing Wisconsin’s PFAS crisis would be federal and state action and funding, he said he hopes to achieve several goals through the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are asking that the defendants be forced to help remediate the problem by taking action to provide clean and safe drinking water to the impacted communities, Kaul explained.

The lawsuit also seeks to recover all costs, expenses and damages linked to their allegedly “tortious conduct,” which includes restoration and loss-of-use damages, natural resource damages and the costs of investigating and remediating PFAS pollution throughout the state.

“Wisconsinites should not have to foot the bill for polluters who should have known that what they’re doing is wrong all along,” Evers said.

“That’s why we are demanding that the polluters who are responsible should have to pay for the reckless and reprehensible conduct,” the governor added.

In response to the filing, a statement from DuPont de Nemours said that the company was established in 2019 “as a new multi-industrial specialty products” firm and that it never manufactured firefighting foam or two specific types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS.

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, we believe this complaint is without merit, and is the latest example of DuPont de Nemours being improperly named in litigation,” the statement added, noting that the company would vigorously defend its “record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.”

A statement from 3M, meanwhile, said that the company “acted responsibly in connection with its manufacture and sale of PFAS and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

A spokesperson for Tyco said that the company “took responsibility for its part in PFAS contamination in Wisconsin many years ago and has spent millions of dollars on a comprehensive clean-up program.”

The Tyco spokesperson described the lawsuit as prioritizing “politics and a fast approaching election,” while accusing the state of failing to deal with PFAS contamination from other sources. 

“Today’s lawsuit will not stop Tyco from doing the right thing and leading on the PFAS clean up, and we will continue remediation efforts underway even while we defend this lawsuit in due course,” the spokesperson added.

The Hill has also reached out to Chemours for comment.

Updated: 2:32 p.m.

Tags forever chemicals French Island Josh Kaul Josh Kaul La Crosse PFAS Tony Evers Tony Evers
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