Equilibrium & Sustainability

Justice for PFAS exposure races a ticking clock

New Hampshire Rep. Nancy Murphy, D-Merrimack, walks through the under-construction water filtration site for two of her town's contaminated wells
Associated Press - Charles Krupa

First in a four-part series

Brenda Hampton says the heart attack she endured last month might be a blessing in disguise — a second chance at challenging a complex legal system that barred her from seeking compensation for years of renal failure. 

“I’m thinking God is opening the door for me. I’ve got a feeling of that,” Hampton, the founder of Concerned Citizens of WMEL (West Morgan and East Lawrence) Water Authority, told The Hill. 

Through her organization, also known as Concerned Citizens of North Alabama Grassroots, Hampton has been raising awareness about the severe contamination from “forever chemicals” — per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — that have for decades plagued portions of Alabama’s Lawrence County, where Hampton lives.  

Lawrence County resident Brenda Hampton, founder of Concerned Citizens of WMEL Water Authority, organizes to raise awareness about PFAS contamination.  © Courtesy Brenda Hampton

PFAS are sometimes called forever chemicals because they can accumulate in the body over time, instead of breaking down, and also linger in the environment for decades on end. 

Hampton, 66, has been investigating the northern Alabama contamination personally since 2015, as well as bringing bottled water to impacted residents and championing local legal battles involving impacted water agencies and residents. Her grandparents both died of renal failure, as did her mother in 2001, just four years after Hampton gave her a kidney.

But despite suffering from renal failure herself since 2015, Hampton had long ago abandoned the idea of pursuing a lawsuit — with the understanding that from a legal perspective, it was simply too late.

“After I knew that it was a two-year limit for Alabama and I was still here, I was saying that my options were gone because I didn’t file immediately then,” Hampton said. 

The “two-year limit” to which Hampton was referring is known as a “statute of limitations,” a state-level law that dictates the time frame under which victims of contamination can sue. Alabama has among the strictest statutes nationwide: Plaintiffs in the state can sue only within two years after they become sick, rather than after the cause of the illness is known.  

That’s because Alabama, as well as Michigan and Idaho, lack or have very limited versions of what’s called a “discovery rule” when it comes to toxic exposures, setting them uniquely apart from most states. While statutes of limitations in many other states pose significant restrictions, most at least enable plaintiffs to delay suing until they have a clear causal link for their illness.

Without a discovery rule, experts told The Hill, plaintiffs seeking compensation face a nearly insurmountable hurdle, even though they may have never even heard of PFAS by the time the statute of limitations passes, let alone known they were being harmed by them. 

And while in Alabama, the clock starts ticking when injury occurs, in Michigan it starts even earlier — when the pollution occurs, even if the affected people don’t know it’s happening. 

“For some people, they may just never be testing their water well for PFAS and then they read about it in the news, and they test their well, and they find there’s high levels of PFAS and then they go to sue somebody,” said Oday Salim, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “But it turns out, that that somebody began placing PFAS in the groundwater many, many years ago, and therefore their claim is barred by the statute of limitations.”

Statutes of limitations are facing increasing scrutiny from activists, who say that people should get more time to sue.

“How can you have a statute of limitations on something that people didn’t even know existed — that they were being exposed to?” asked environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, who gained fame suing the utility company PG&E over contamination involving a different chemical in California. 

A photo from the early to mid-1990s of a PG&E compressor in Hinkley, Calif. © Courtesy Erin Brockovich 

“That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Brockovich said. “Who are these laws really protecting?” 

But Hampton has some renewed optimism following her heart attack. She is hoping she might now have a second chance — that the heart attack might be considered a new injury, distinct from the renal failure, that could potentially start a new clock ticking.

Hampton had just come home from work on Dec. 21, delivering bottled water to residents in need. Her shoulders were bothering her, so she said she administered a heating pad and went to sleep, after which she woke up nauseated and sweaty and unable to “even catch a breath.” 

While doctors concluded that she had suffered a heart attack, they determined that she didn’t need a stent and couldn’t find a blood clot, even though all the cardiac enzymes typically released following a heart attack were present in her bloodstream, according to Hampton. 

“I’m looking at this as a blessing in several ways,” she said. “They said you had a heart attack, but you don’t need stents, we don’t need to put anything in. They’re really puzzled. We’re calling this a miracle — a miracle heart attack is what they named it.”

And Hampton said it could be the miracle she needs to launch a future case related to her decades of PFAS exposure.

“Now it’s just really showing up, with my body, with my health — it’s pulling down my heart,” she said, noting that she intends to seek out a specialist who handles toxic chemicals. 

“Hopefully, then, we can find a loophole to get me into personal injury,” she added.

Hampton is far from the only American who has faced PFAS contamination in recent decades. 

PFAS are most infamous for contaminating waterways via aqueous film form foam (AFFF), which is used to fight jet fuel-based fires at Air Force bases, commercial airports and industrial sites, among other places. But they are also key ingredients in an array of common products such as nonstick pans, toys, makeup, fast-food containers and waterproof apparel.

Although experts have linked PFAS exposure to kidney, liver, immunological, developmental and reproductive issues, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has thus far only established “health advisory levels” for the two most well-known compounds — PFOS and PFOA — rather than regulate all the more than 5,000 types of PFAS. And advisory levels were set nearly six years ago.

“We said 10 years ago this is going to be the largest emerging contaminant in the history of this country, and it is. It’s very scary, because it’s not going to go away,” Brockovich told The Hill. 

She quipped that the Obama administration’s response to the issue was essentially, “So noted, so let us set a guideline.”

Hampton was born in the same part of northern Alabama where she lives today, and where her mother and grandparents grew up as well. 

“My family’s a very well known family — we’ve always taken care of people and we have people in this area,” Hampton said. “Our house has always been like an Underground Railroad.”

She moved away in 1973 to go to school in Boston and came back in 2015 at the insistence of her daughters, after a routine physical in for her job in Boston landed her in the intensive care unit. 

“They were saying I was exposed to some type of toxic chemicals,” Hampton said. 

“At that time, I’m only using pencils and paper — I’m not doing any type of work in a plant,” she added, explaining that she was a manager for McDonald’s.

While living up north, Hampton stressed that she often came home to Alabama to visit and consumed the local food. And when she returned permanently in 2015, she said she noticed that a lot of residents — including many family members of her own — were getting sick. 

She went door-to-door in her neighborhood and said that on two streets alone, she discovered 54 cases of cancer and 14 cases of renal failure. 

“That’s when I found out that we were only 13 miles downstream from 27 industrial plants,” she said. “They were dumping their toxic waste into the Tennessee River, where we obtain our drinking water.”

The industrial plants in question are located in Decatur, along the banks of the Tennessee River about a 20-mile drive east of Hampton’s community of Courtland.  

Among the biggest of the plants is a 3M global hub, established in 1951, that manufactures products such as adhesives, packaging, films and specialty materials, according to the company. 3M was among the first to create products from PFAS, launching Scotchguard in the 1950s and AFFF firefighting foam together with the military in the 1960s, the company says

In April 2019, 3M reached a settlement with the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority, after the authority filed a lawsuit in fall 2015 regarding PFAS contamination in the region’s drinking water, according to a joint statement from the parties. In addition to a $35 million payout, among the stipulations of the settlement was the construction of a new reverse osmosis filtration system that opened last fall, as reported by local CBS News affiliate WHNT

3M also reached a settlement with several other parties in October, agreeing to pay $99 million to the city of Decatur, Decatur Utilities and Morgan County to fund a variety of environmental projects and address PFAS contamination at disposal sites, a statement from the company said.

“I had to learn about the chemicals when I got here,” Hampton said, referring to when she returned to Alabama. “I had to study a lot, so over the six years that I’ve been working with this day and night, I guess it would lead me up to a heart attack because my phone is constantly ringing from people in the community that need things.”

Altogether, Hampton said she has invested $30,000 of her own money in Grassroots, while also working as a private contractor for the Alabama Health Education Centers, which administer COVID-19 vaccination and testing in the area. 

Not all of Hampton’s PFAS activism efforts have been popular, as many members of the community also work for the companies that pollute its waters. 

“That’s what was causing me a lot of destruction to my property,” Hampton said. “They destroyed two vehicles of mine, I’ve been shot at and I’ve had to leave my home — the whole nine yards.”

Hampton said she filed a police report at the time, but authorities never figured out exactly who was coming after her. She suspects, however, that these were employees of the industrial plants who feared that her anti-PFAS activism could lead to closures and subsequent job losses. 

Hampton ended up installing surveillance equipment in her home and on her cars, she added, noting that she once moved to a hotel and another time went to stay with a friend in Florida during the height of the threats.

“I didn’t know who was doing this to me. And it would happen late at night, early in the morning,” Hampton said. “I went to a meeting once, I came outside and they had broken into my truck. They had put a doll in there — a Chucky doll in there — and they had cut it up.”

“Then I get a phone call: We’re watching you,” she continued. “My phone number was out there. I’ve changed so many phones that it’s unreal.”

The only thing that helped curb a lot of the violence and threats was when the CEO of 3M “came out and admitted that they had been putting this stuff, this PFOS and PFOA, in the water since the 1950s,” Hampton said.  

“So that relieved some pressure on me,” she added.

On a company-wide earnings call in January 2020, 3M CEO Mike Roman acknowledged that “3M discovered and voluntarily informed the EPA and appropriate state authorities that discharges from our Decatur, Alabama facility may not have complied with permit requirements,” WHNT reported at the time.

As far as violence in the community is concerned, Sean Lynch, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement that “3M condemns violence and intimation of any kind” and that the company is “not aware of these actions and [takes] such matters very seriously,” but that any such alleged conduct “should be reported to the proper authorities.” 

“We strongly disagree with this characterization of the role 3M has in the Decatur community,” the statement said, referring The Hill to information about the previously referenced case with the city of Decatur and Decatur Utilities.   

“We cannot comment on any individual’s health condition,” the statement said. “However, the weight of scientific evidence does not show that PFOA or PFOS causes harm in people at current or past levels, including adverse kidney effects.”

The company cited a 2021 Toxicological Profile from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which stated that “although many studies found statistically significant associations between” blood PFAS levels and adverse health impacts, the conclusions “were not consistent across studies,” and that while “human studies have identified some potential targets of toxicity … cause-and-effect relationships have not been established.”

But the EPA said in November in new draft documents that recent data shows that both PFOA and PFOS are much more toxic than previously believed. It also said at the time that the documents say PFOA is “likely” a carcinogen, while previous EPA reports have indicated “suggestive evidence” that PFOS might cause cancer.

On PFAS in general, the company said in a separate statement that it collaborates “with communities, government officials, regulators, experts and others to proactively manage PFAS.” 

It also stressed its commitment to remediating sites where 3M has produced or disposed of PFAS — which in total amount to $1 billion in investments.

The statement added that 3M has worked for decades to expand information on the materials it produces and explained that global health agencies “have acknowledged the limited nature” of any evidence to the contrary. 

Workers as seen from Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. ©  Associated Press – Dan Elliott 

Statutes of limitations provide complications elsewhere, too

Hampton’s region of Alabama is just one among countless communities across the country in which complicated state-level rules present challenges for plaintiffs attempting to obtain compensation for injuries they believe stem from PFAS exposure. 

The lack or limited nature of a discovery rule in Alabama — where the clock starts ticking at time of injury, rather than at diagnosis or known cause of injury — makes the situation there particularly challenging. But that doesn’t mean legal outcomes are simple in states that do have a discovery rule.

In Colorado, which has a two-year statute of limitations and a discovery rule, one Colorado Springs area resident believes that long-term PFAS exposure may have led to her mother’s death, and that she has been unable to seek compensation on her mother’s behalf due to the restrictive time frame. 

Lydia — who preferred not to use her real name due to the possibility she may pursue a case for her mother in the future — and her family lived near the Peterson Air Force Base, which for decades discharged AFFF firefighting foam that contaminated both private wells and public waterways, a fact that the Department of Defense has publicly acknowledged. The department has also worked to clean up the contamination. 

The Air Force first started using AFFF in 1970 for fire and crash response vehicle testing and exercises, hangar system operations and responses to fuel fires, spills and other emergencies, according to background information provided by the Air Force. AFFF was deemed “mission critical because it is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum-based fires,” per that information, in which the Air Force noted that the Federal Aviation Administration requires the use of the foam at military and civilian airport fire stations. 

 She tried to get her mother’s case into an expansive nationwide lawsuit — called multidistrict litigation (MDL) — but it was ultimately rejected. The federal MDL, occurring in South Carolina, includes thousands of cases against manufacturers of the PFAS-laden AFFF, such as 3M and DuPont. Cases involving other PFAS sources are being lodged separately. 

Lydia showed The Hill a letter she received from the office of Paul Napoli, co-lead counsel for the national MDL, denying her mother inclusion in the case.

“Unfortunately, after extensive research into [the] illnesses and consultation with both our medical toxicology experts, we have not been able to establish a link between [her] illnesses and the water contamination,” the letter said. 

But it warned that if Lydia intends to seek other representation for her mother’s wrongful death suit, “it is imperative that [she] do so immediately,” as the “failure to commence an action within the statutory period will forever bar [her] from doing so.”

Lydia said she doesn’t understand why her mom — who spent her entire life in the region — wasn’t included alongside the thousands of other plaintiffs in the case.

“She had never lived anywhere else,” Lydia said. “That’s where she was. And it was a cancer that she died from.”

When asked about this type of exclusion, Napoli told The Hill that “there have been no scientific studies or studies under review that associated bladder cancer with PFAS exposure,” while other behaviors such as smoking can be a strong indicator for the disease.  

Napoli said that he is adhering to the results of the “C8 Science Panel” — completed in 2012 following the settlement of a PFAS exposure case in Parkersburg, W.Va. — which established a link to diagnosed high cholesterol, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension. While the attorneys have expanded their list to include some other illnesses like pancreatic and prostate cancers, Napoli confirmed that bladder cancer has not yet made the list.

Graphic illustrating diseases potentially linked to PFAS exposure, with high cholesterol, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension sourced from C8 Science Panel. © c8sciencepanel.org/Valerie Morris

“We have a saying, bad cases make bad law,” Napoli said. “So if you have cases that you can’t prove from the very beginning, you know you’re going to give false hope to these people as opposed to making a case for them.”

Meanwhile, he explained, other plaintiffs who have strong cases could end up suffering if a so-called “bad case” ends up driving a judge’s decision. 

Lydia said she has not pursued additional action despite the warning about potential time restrictions because she was overwhelmed at the time she received the letter.

“We really did not have the financial means to hire an attorney, and I was not able to handle that, plus managing the [sale] of their home, my sister being diagnosed with cancer and the sudden death of my step-son,” Lydia said. “I already had too many things on my plate.” 

While Colorado’s two-year statute of limitations does generally apply to deaths, David McDivitt, vice president of the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Law Firm, acknowledged that “it would be a tough case to make” that a death years ago was linked to PFAS exposure — although he could not speak to specific cases. 

“You can file the lawsuit on behalf of that person,” said McDivitt, who represents local clients in the MDL. “You just have to fight to withstand a summary judgment or a motion to dismiss.”

Asked whether he, as an attorney, would take on such a case, he said that he “might,” but that he would need “crystal-clear evidence” that although the death occurred more than two years ago, there was suddenly proof that “the stuff that they were swimming in, drinking, bathing in 20 years ago caused this.”

Often, he added, there is no autopsy or a patient dies in hospice with comorbidities, which makes establishing such an indisputable causal link a challenge.

And if a plaintiff dies during an ongoing case, things become all the more complicated.

“The case is converted potentially to a wrongful death claim, but you have to prove that the exposure was a cause of the death,” said Kevin Hannon, head of toxics and environmental litigation for the Denver-based Morgan and Morgan Law Firm and the founder of The Hannon Law Firm. 

Hannon serves on the plaintiffs’ steering committee for the MDL and represents individuals who are suing. 

Even attorneys struggle to determine how these statutes will impact toxic exposure cases as they assess complex scenarios, like those in which plaintiffs were exposed and died in a state where the statute already ran its course, but lived in a state where it persisted, Napoli explained. 

Some action toward streamlining PFAS regulation — but not litigation — has begun to inch forward on the federal level. In October, the EPA announced plans to finish a rule to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water by 2023. 

Congress, too, has sought action on PFAS, with the House passing legislation in recent years that would require the EPA to set standards limiting how much PFOA and PFOS can be in drinking water, as well as designate the two types of PFAS as hazardous substances. But the legislation has yet to be taken up in the Senate. 

In the meantime, it is up to states to regulate and litigate matters relating to PFAS exposure. 

Advocates seek accountability

Another Coloradan, Mark Favors, has long been on a mission to shake up a legal system that he believes barred him from seeking compensation for his own grandmother’s death. She moved to Widefield, a suburb of Colorado Springs, in the 1970s and died of lung cancer about 15 years later. 

In total, about 25 of Favors’s family members — many not related by blood — have had cancers, and several have since died, according to his cousin, Steve Patterson, who is in remission from prostate cancer. 

Favors grew up in Colorado Springs and is now an intensive care nurse in New York City. But his location across the country has not stopped him from fighting on his family’s behalf. That fight began for him in 2017, when he came to believe that his grandmother’s death may have been linked to PFAS exposure. 

While scientists have not yet proven a definitive link between human PFAS exposure and lung cancer, some studies have found potential associations between the two, and several law firms are representing lung cancer patients in PFAS cases.  

Favors, a U.S. Army veteran and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, testified before the House about the issue in 2019, alongside actor Mark Ruffalo — who portrayed attorney Rob Bilott in the film “Dark Waters,” which was about PFAS litigation.

Favors said that he and his family members were unaware of the region’s PFAS contamination until 2017, when he was visiting his mother and saw a news report about the Peterson Air Force Base, according to his testimony. 

“I was very disappointed in hearing that my grandmother — my grandparents had been poisoned,” Favors told Congress. 

He soon learned that PFAS had been discharged at the Air Force base from 1970 to 2016, making it difficult to determine whether deaths and illnesses in the past could be linked to that toxic exposure, according to his testimony. 

At Peterson, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center launched a series of inspection and remediation efforts in 2016, including the installation of advanced filtration systems at both public and private wells and groundwater cleanup studies that have begun over the past year, according to the Air Force. These efforts have amounted to a $110 million investment thus far.

“We live in the communities we serve, and we share community concerns about the possible impacts our firefighting operations may have on human drinking water sources,” a statement from the Air Force said. 

The Air Force “is committed to remediation of PFOS/PFOA releases that are attributable to its operations and is partnering with local communities, state and local regulators and elected officials, federal interagency partners, and Congress to ensure a whole-of-government approach,” the statement added.

Remediation efforts notwithstanding, Favors has repeatedly expressed frustration with his inability “to get justice and accountability,” as he said in his congressional testimony.

“Per Colorado’s strict two-year statute of limitation, a lot of my grandparents and family members that fought in World War II and in Vietnam — because they died before 2014, they are not able to sue anyway,” Favors said in his testimony, adding that “there is not enough money in the U.S. Treasury to compensate for poisoning my grandmother.”

Favors’s father also died of kidney cancer in 2017, while several of his maternal cousins passed due to kidney and other cancers — and like Patterson, he stressed that many of these relatives were not related by blood. 

“These are all these murky legal issues that we shouldn’t have to figure out when you tell us you poisoned our drinking water for 40 years,” Favors told The Hill.  

Regardless of the murkiness, Favors said that his father signed up for the federal MDL prior to his death, while Patterson signed up as well — as did Lydia, despite her mother’s exclusion. 

Flowchart of multidistrict litigation cases in South Carolina against the manufacturers of firefighting foam that contains PFAS. ©  Valerie Morris/Courtesy Paul Napoli

Multidistrict litigation works its way through the courts 

In total, there are about 13,000 individuals in the MDL, Napoli, the co-lead counsel, told The Hill. 

The plaintiffs are sorted into several categories: water providers, municipal property owners, personal injuries, medical monitoring cases for individuals exposed but not yet ill and states that have sued through a federal legal process called a National Resource Damage Assessment, he explained.   

The judge starts with one of these categories — in this case, water providers — and picks cases considered “tier-one bellwether” that can be representative of others within that group, Napoli said. In this MDL, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel selected 10 water provider cases that were then narrowed down to three, which will go to trial in January 2023, according to Napoli. 

“The hope is that those three will force a settlement for all the water providers,” he said, noting that the logical progression would be to move to personal injury next. 

Napoli said he also hopes that major issues decided in the water provider cases will be rolled into the personal injury suits — which could also benefit from the additional time granted to ongoing scientific studies that could further establish links between illnesses and PFAS exposure.  

“It sort of was a logical progression to try to put some time under the bridge, you know, water under the bridge, to make sure that we had time to prove the personal injury case — to let the science catch up,” Napoli said.

Despite the federal nature of an MDL, the outcomes can be still impacted by the individual state laws that apply to each claim, according to Hannon, the Denver-based attorney who serves on the plaintiffs’ steering committee.

Hypothetically, Hannon explained, if a judge found that a two-year statute of limitations hadn’t been breached, then such a finding could help demonstrate that a similar claim in a state with a three- or four-year statute of limitations had been met as well.

Short statutes of limitations are used by the defense as “a shield against claims,” to argue that the plaintiff should have been aware of the injury and its causes, Hannon explained. His home state of Colorado, he said, shortened its statute from six years to two several decades ago, amid heavy lobbying to protect corporate interests. 

Lynch, the spokesman for 3M — one of the main manufacturers in the MDL defense — declined to provide specific comment about ongoing litigation, saying there’s information in the public record.  

On the part of DuPont, another of the manufacturers targeted by the lawsuit, spokesman Daniel Turner stated that “while we do not comment on ongoing litigation, we believe these complaints are examples of DuPont de Nemours being improperly named in litigation, and we will continue to vigorously defend our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.”

Tyco, another defendant in the MDL and a maker of firefighting foam, defended its work in a statement to The Hill.

“We make firefighting foams to required military standards, and U.S. military and civilian firefighters depend on these foams to extinguish life-threatening fires. We will vigorously defend against these lawsuits,” the company said. 

While The Hill spoke with individuals who are suing as part of the MDL, others, such as Liz Rosenbaum and her husband, were deterred from suing, assuming they were too late. 

“We have a two-year statute of limitations to file claims against contamination that has happened, even though it’s been going on since the ’70s,” said Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition and a resident of the Colorado Springs region for the past two decades.

Rosenbaum said that she and her husband decided not to join the MDL, even though “he was sick all the time” when the lawyers came around to collect names. He received a diagnosis just 20 months ago, for an illness that he prefers not to disclose due to work sensitivities.

“It’s too late now,” she continued. “By the time we finally got tested [for blood PFAS levels], we were past the two-year mark.”

Rosenbaum’s understanding was that at this point, any potential claim would be barred by the statute of limitations. But that could be up for debate. 

Her husband’s illness does not fall within the C8 Science panel — the reference list for illnesses conclusively linked to PFAS exposures used by the lawyers in the MDL. However, if future research findings ended up proving a causal link between his illness and PFAS exposure, a new statute of limitations could theoretically be triggered due to Colorado’s discovery rule. 

The same could technically apply to Lydia’s mother, if scientists definitively proved a connection between PFAS exposure and bladder cancer. Most plaintiffs, however, are not aware of the existence of the statute of limitations, let alone this possible way of working within them.

But whether plaintiffs would have the time or money to invest in fighting a legal battle pursuing such options remains questionable, as most of the impacted residents in the Colorado Springs area are lower-income, according to Lydia. 

Patterson, Favors’s cousin, echoed these sentiments, adding that he doubts that the MDL will amount to anything in their favor.

“The New York Times have been out here twice and talked to me, then another news agency has been out here and talked to me,” Patterson said. “I’ve been on the news, once. But no, it just dies down.”

Napoli acknowledged the frustrations many plaintiffs are feeling, explaining that the centralization of the 13,000 claims in the MDL will provide finality that individuals wouldn’t get in a hundred different courtrooms.

“The judge tries to clear the deck of important issues that will affect a lot of people,” Napoli said. “So while at the beginning it’s slower, in the end, it’ll speed up the process and make it a little easier for an individual player.”

He encouraged plaintiffs to remain optimistic, despite the long wait.

“Ultimately, we hope that we get a bunch of bellwether cases that are exemplars of the different types of injuries, from kidney cancer to bladder cancer — if it comes down to it at some point — and that juries give us high awards that scare the hell out of the defendants to try to resolve the other claims,” Napoli said.

Regardless of the timeline, Lydia said she had simply hoped to get her mother on the list of plaintiffs for her “offsprings’ benefit.” 

“If there was some kind of compensation that could benefit those kids, that’s really what I wanted — was for them to acknowledge they did wrong,” Lydia said.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, Hampton looked back at the generations before her, who she said would be hurt to see what had happened to the once thriving Decatur. This region, she said, had once rivaled Montgomery in its millionaires per capita, dress shops, cab service and theaters.

“Now to not even have a grocery store,” she said of Courtland, “that’s really devastating.”

She attributes the area’s economic decline to general industrial pollution, including from PFAS, implying that few people want to live in an area where the water might make them sick.

If Hampton does succeed in her pursuit of a personal injury case, she said she would turn over the funds to those less fortunate in her region by opening up a local community center. 

Marveling over her recent heart attack, Hampton said that her doctor remains flummoxed as to how she got through the incident without the need for stents or further action. 

“I think that God gave me another chance — he’s not through with me,” Hampton said. “I have some more work to do.”

Also in this series:
State resistance foils law changes, hampering PFAS suits
Formidable legal bar shields military from PFAS lawsuits
Past toxics cases set the stage for PFAS lawsuits

Tags 3M CBS News dark waters Erin Brockovich forever chemicals MORGAN LAW FIRM Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid Perfluorooctanoic acid PFAS PG&E

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