Brief

Evers and Kaul file lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers

By: - July 21, 2022 5:56 am
PFAS sample testing bottles | Photo by Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

PFAS sample testing bottles | Photo by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul have filed a lawsuit against three Wisconsin manufacturers and 15 other defendants accused of  “wrongful, deceptive, and tortious conduct” which directly resulted in PFAS contamination in Wisconsin. The lawsuit, filed in Dane County, argues that the defendants either knew or should have known about the detrimental effects that “forever chemicals” have on the environment and public health. The lawsuit has been filed against Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, 3M, DuPont and others.

“Every Wisconsinite deserves access to clean, safe water — free of lead, PFAS, and other contaminants that have long been known to harm our kids, farmers, communities, and industries across our state,” said Evers. “Every corner of Wisconsin has been affected by PFAS contamination, and communities from Marinette to Wausau to French Island are facing the harsh reality of PFAS in their wells, causing some folks and families to even have to rely on water coolers and plastic water bottles for clean drinking water.” The governor added, “we’re taking immediate action to address PFAS in Wisconsin by ensuring accountability and responsibility for polluters and making sure Wisconsinites don’t have to foot the bill to clean up the messes that others have made.”

PFAS are part of a larger family of man-made chemicals that were used in non-stick coatings for cooking pans, fast food wrappers, firefighting foam, and numerous other products. They are called “forever chemicals” because they are persistent and don’t break down in the environment or our bodies. PFAS, as well as related chemicals like PFOS and PFOA, have been linked to a litany of chronic health problems including cancers,thyroid disorders, birth defects and high cholesterol. Companies that produced the chemicals, such as DuPont, were aware of the health effects. Dupont and 3M actually conducted their own studies involving rats, and monitored pregnancy outcomes for some workers. This history was covered in the documentary The Devil We Know, and the cinematic movie Dark Waters.

Manufacturers have historically worked against measures that hold them accountable for cleaning up and remediating contamination sites. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Natural Resources Board also voted to set PFAS limits in water at 70 parts per million. That’s far above the 20 parts per million recommended by scientists. In October, half of the water wells in Eau Claire were shut down due to PFAS contamination. The state has provided emergency drinking water to communities with high levels of contamination. The area around Marinette is one of the state’s most affected areas, with residents reporting health ailments even among pets.

Some waterways have also been issued fish advisories due to PFAS contamination, including high quality trout waters. Environmental advocates have also raised the alarm about efforts to undermine the Spills Law in Wisconsin. Without the Spills Law, the DNR’s ability to enforce PFAS clean-ups would be neutered.

The lawsuit filed by Evers and Kaul details a history of company activity in Wisconsin spanning decades. It alleges the defendants of public and private negligence, and liability for failure to warn of and detect design defects. The state is seeking to “recover all costs, expenses, and damages associated with Defendents’ tortious conduct, including — but not limited to — restoration and loss-of-use damages, natural-resource damages, and the costs of investigating, abating, containing, preventing, treating, removing, and remediating PFAS contamination in Wisconsin. The state also requests punitive damages to reflect Defendants’ reprehensible conduct,” the lawsuit states.

Kaul highlighted that PFAS has affected families across the state. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that the companies that are responsible — and not Wisconsin taxpayers — will pay to clean it up,” said Kaul. Peg Sheaffer, communications director for Midwest Environmental Advocates praised the lawsuit.

“Today, the State of Wisconsin made it clear that those who are responsible for polluting our water and putting our health at risk will be held accountable,” said Sheaffer. “For Marinette, Peshtigo, Wausau, Rhinelander and too many other communities around the state, PFAS contamination is not a potential threat — it is a reality. The fact that our government is beginning to take serious action to address the crisis is entirely due to the advocacy of people living in impacted communities who are speaking out against powerful polluters and advocating for their right to safe drinking water.”

This article has been edited to correct the attribution of a quote.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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