Attorney General Neronha Sues Manufacturers of Toxic Forever Chemicals
It is alleged that defendants knew their products were likely to cause significant injury to the people and resources of Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha today filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, for causing significant harm to the residents and natural resources of Rhode Island, engaging in a massive and widespread campaign to knowingly deceive the public, moving assets to avoid paying for damages they caused, and continuing to manufacture, market, and sell these hazardous chemicals for decades while knowing the risks, and reaping enormous profits in the process.
In the complaint, filed in Providence County Superior Court, the Attorney General alleges that the defendants, including major chemical companies such as 3M and DuPont, have violated state environmental and consumer protection laws, leading to the proliferation of these “forever chemicals.”
Among thousands of other industrial and consumer applications, PFAS were and, in some cases still are, commonly used in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a chemical foam used for firefighting and associated training and emergency response at locations such as military and industrial facilities, airports, fire stations and training centers, and other locations throughout Rhode Island. The pervasive use of PFAS in these products has caused and/or contributed to known contamination of the state’s groundwater, drinking water, surface water, air, soil, wetlands, and other natural resources. Exposure to PFAS has been associated with various significant negative health effects impacting reproductive health, childhood development, and increasing the risk of certain cancers.
“We are still uncovering the consequences of exposure to these hazardous chemicals by Rhode Islanders, but the burden of this enormous cost should be borne by the companies who made, marketed, and sold these products at great profit, while hiding their true dangers,” said Attorney General Neronha. “As alleged, these companies concealed from the public, regulators, and consumers the dangers posed by these chemicals and now their chemicals have infiltrated virtually everywhere from our waterways to our bloodstreams. They have broken the law and harmed the people and natural resources of Rhode Island. We intend to hold them accountable for that.”
It is alleged that PFAS chemicals have contaminated and will continue to contaminate many public water supplies in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Health, working in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and researchers from Brown University, have detected significantly elevated concentrations of PFAS chemicals in numerous public water systems and many private wells near areas where these products were known to be used. As alleged in the complaint, there is likely contamination from numerous military installations, fire-fighting training sites, and industrial sites such as the Naval Station in Newport, Camp Fogarty, Quonset Point, and the Bradford Dyeing Association site in Westerly.
Addressing the PFAS contamination the defendants caused will require massive effort and expense to investigate, treat, and remediate – the full extent of which is still being evaluated. The Attorney General is seeking damages from the defendants to cover the costs of mitigation and remediation of PFAS contamination, as well as punitive damages and disgorgement of profits.
Due to the historical and ongoing contamination caused by aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and other PFAS-containing products, Rhode Island’s General Assembly has recently passed multiple laws and regulations related to drinking water standards, prohibiting food packaging containing PFAS, and monitoring of groundwater and discharge, including the PFAS in Drinking Water, Groundwater, and Surface Waters Act, H.B. 7233 / S.B. 2298 which was enacted last year. Currently, state legislators are considering at least six significant new bills that would prohibit or restrict usage of these chemicals.
Said Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio in a joint statement: “The General Assembly has shown a commitment to responding to the dangers of PFAS in our day-to-day environment, including drinking water and food packaging. We will continue to look for ways to protect Rhode Islanders from the ongoing health threats caused by these harmful chemicals. We applaud Attorney General Neronha for taking bold action.”
“It is important to recognize the work of House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and members of the General Assembly, including Representatives June Speakman and Terri Cortvriend and Senators Walter Felag and Susan Sosnowski, among others, for their efforts in strengthening Rhode Island’s laws addressing PFAS contamination,” added Attorney General Neronha. “These laws, in addition to federal and state regulations, underscore the risk that these chemicals present to human health and the environment. The public is going to face significant costs and damages as a result of these more stringent standards, and the State’s claims are designed to make certain that it is the parties that created this crisis and contaminated Rhode Island’s waters pay to clean it up.”
“Monitoring the pervasiveness of PFAS in our environment is one of DEM’s most pressing challenges to help protect public health and natural resources,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “PFAS science is incredibly complex and emerging rapidly but there is no disputing PFAS’ prevalence in the environment or the harm they cause. We are grateful for the Attorney General’s legal action to bring about accountability for this massive ecological liability.”
“Work to ensure healthy and safe communities by addressing PFAS and other environmental contaminants is at the core of public health,” said Interim Director of Health Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH. “Legal actions like the one announced today are an important complement to the PFAS work being done in RIDOH’s Division of Environmental Health and State Health Laboratories. This includes partnering with water systems throughout the state to test for PFAS and ensuring that drinking water is treated when elevated levels are found. We will continue to collaborate closely with federal, state, and local partners to limit exposure to PFAS whenever possible in Rhode Island.”
A copy of the complaint is available here.