New Hampshire is the latest state to file suit against a number of companies, including Dupont and 3M, for their roles in a nationwide drinking water contamination crisis. The lawsuit claims that the polluted water is the result of the manufacture and use of perfluorinated chemicals, a group of more than 4,000 compounds collectively known as PFAS.
The suit in New Hampshire, announced on Wednesday (May 29), joins several other class-action and state lawsuits throughout the country.
The complaints alleges that the companies “failed to warn of the dangers of their products.” They also claim that the companies knew that releasing the compounds into the environment “would make groundwater and surface water unfit for drinking.”
PFAS are used to manufacture a wide variety of products, especially anything meant to make surfaces non-stick or heat resistant. They’ve been used to make clothing and shoes waterproof for decades (Gore-Tex, for example, has promised to remove all perflourinated compounds from their gear by 2023—they are referred to as PFCs on Gore-Tex’s website.) The most widely-known compound of the group is PFOA, a perfluorinated compound that is used to make Dupont’s Teflon non-stick pan coating.
Another of these compounds is known as PFOS, and is the main ingredient in widely used firefighting foam, which has lead to widespread contamination around military bases, airports, and firefighter training facilities. The Pentagon has found PFOS in the groundwater or drinking water at 126 military bases so far.
To understand what’s happening here, one has to understand the magnitude of the problem. Over the last decade, many US states—and countries around the world—have slowly realized they have a massive water contamination problem on their hands. PFAS were, and in some cases continue to be, widely used chemicals that do not degrade in the environment, and the health effects of exposure to elevated levels of it are just beginning to be understood.