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Massachusetts Attorney General files suit against PFAS manufacturers

maura healey
Charles Krupa
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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey during a news conference, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Boston.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has filed suit against more than a dozen manufacturers of firefighting foams that contain PFAS chemicals that have been linked to a range of serious health problems.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl chemicals — commonly referred to as "forever chemicals" because they don't easily break down in the environment — have been linked to cancers, liver and thyroid damage, developmental and immune system issues, and other health problems.

"Our lawsuit today goes after the manufacturers who looked past all of these harms for decades — for decades — and kept selling and putting this foam product out there, including selling and pushing it to government entities, municipalities, local fire departments and businesses right here in Massachusetts," Healey said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the lawsuit. "Their actions violate state and federal laws that are intended to protect our residents and place costly burdens on our communities that are now forced to clean up this mess."

The suit targets 13 chemical manufacturers, including 3M, Dupont and Tyco, alleging the companies hid information about the toxicity of PFAS, submitted false information to the EPA and tried to prevent workers from discussing the risk the chemicals pose.

The suit also names two companies the attorney general alleges were involved in "shielding assets" that can be targeted by the suit.

"We're holding these manufacturers accountable for their deception, [and] requiring them to pay back every last dollar our state has spent on their products to clean up the contamination," Healey said. "We want them to restore our precious natural resources and ensure that the water we drink and use in our daily lives is not at risk as a result of PFAS products here in Massachusetts."

Healey said PFAS contamination has been found in more than 80 Massachusetts communities, including Stowe, Chicopee, Weymouth, Abington, Rockland and on Cape Cod.

The attorney general’s lawsuit was filed in federal district court, and Healey said it will likely be consolidated with hundreds of other lawsuits that have been filed against the manufacturers.

The lawsuit is focused on contamination caused by the presence of PFAS in firefighting foam, but Healey acknowledged the chemicals are in products ranging from non-stick cookware to cosmetics.

"Our focus and our lens is on targeting the people that actually made PFAS in whatever form, so that we're able to recover and secure money to help remedy the situation," she said.

In April, a state task force focused on PFAS contamination issued a report making 30 recommendations, including increasing funding for detection and remediation of the chemicals, expanding regulation of PFAS and supporting people who have become sick as a result of exposure to the chemicals.

The president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, Richard MacKinnon Jr., praised the suit at Wednesday's press conference. "More firefighters die of occupational cancer than anything else we face," MacKinnon said. "And this PFAS, these forever chemicals, has been proven and linked to cause these cancers that our firefighters get. So we see this as a great step in that fight against the epidemic of firefighter cancer."

In February, a group of 15 Massachusetts firefighters who have been diagnosed with or treated for cancer sued more than 20 manufacturers and distributors of their protective clothing because it contained PFAS.

State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Cape Cod communities affected by contamination, said at Wednesday's press conference that the issue is extensive and costly.

"While we are working to allocate resources in the legislature and putting forward a road map about how we phase out PFAS in our environment and reduce the risk of health exposures, this lawsuit is really going to begin to garner the true resources that we need to address the issue and have those responsible for these affects paying for it," Cyr said.

In a statement, 3M defended its product, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), as a critical tool.

"To this day, the only product that meets the military specification governing firefighting foam is PFAS-based AFFF, due to these substances’ unique and life-saving properties," the statement reads. "3M acted responsibly in connection with its manufacture and sale of AFFF and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship."

Another company named in the lawsuit, Dupont de Nemours, said in a statement to GBH News that through a complicated history of mergers and spinning off of companies, they aren't responsible for PFAS and shouldn't have been named in Healey's suit.

"DuPont de Nemours has never manufactured PFOA, PFOS or firefighting foam," the statement reads. "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. We look forward to vigorously defending our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.”

This story originally appeared on GBH.

Craig produces sound-rich features and breaking news coverage for WGBH News in Boston. His features have run nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on PRI's The World and Marketplace. Craig has won a number of national and regional awards for his reporting, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards in 2015, the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award feature reporting in 2011, first place awards in 2012 and 2009 from the national Public Radio News Directors Inc. and second place in 2007 from the national Society of Environmental Journalists. Craig is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Tufts University.