After historic drinking water settlements, PFAS personal injury lawsuits loom

By Shannon Kelleher

In the wake of landmark settlements requiring chemical giants 3M and DuPont to pay billions to US water systems for alleged toxic chemical contamination, litigation over personal injuries from PFAS exposure is starting to move forward.

The first round of personal injury cases to go to trial will involve people who developed one of four diseases after drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from firefighting foam used at airports or military sites in Colorado and Pennsylvania, which seeped into nearby communities’ drinking water, according to lawyers for plaintiffs.

No date has been set yet for a bellwether trial, which is probably at least a year down the road, said Anne McGinness Kearse, an attorney with the Motley Rice law firm, which will be representing plaintiffs in the litigation. Attorneys for both sides are currently in the process of determining which plaintiffs will be the first to have their cases heard. They are due to report a joint proposal to the court by Dec. 1. As with the water supplier cases, 3M and DuPont are the main defendants, said Kearse.

A separate round of litigation will focus on people exposed through occupational exposure to PFAS, a group that mostly includes firefighters who have been exposed to the chemicals through  their firefighting gear and in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which has been used for decades to help quench fires.

“We are seeing what we believe are increases in the rates of cancer in our members at younger ages,” said Sean DeCrane, director of health and safety operational services at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). “That gives us a lot of concern.”