New Hampshire is suing the original makers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for allegedly contaminating the state's drinking water.
At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu joined officials from the state Departments of Justice and Environmental Services to announce two lawsuits against eight companies – including 3M, Dupont and its spinoff, Chemours.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald says the goal is to recoup damages for the PFAS contamination that's been found in all 10 New Hampshire counties. In towns like Merrimack and Portsmouth, the contamination has put hundreds of families on bottled water.
"It is my hope that those responsible for the manufacture and distribution of PFAS will recognize the severity of the issues they've caused and will become part of the solution,” MacDonald says.He compared the new lawsuits to the state’s 2015, $236 million settlement with ExxonMobil over MtBE chemical contamination of drinking water, and said the state will take “whatever legal action is necessary” to hold the makers of PFAS accountable.
PFAS, an umbrella term for chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS, have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer, and were used for decades in all kinds of household and industrial products, such as nonstick pans, waterproof clothing and stain-resistant carpets.
They were phased out of American manufacturing in the mid-2000s, but are still used in products made overseas. Some health concerns have also been raised about the chemicals’ replacements in U.S. industry -- a family of substances known as GenX.
The old forms of PFAS are also a key ingredient in some still-common firefighting foams. Firefighting equipment makers are the focus of one of New Hampshire’s two PFAS lawsuits.
At the press conference, Governor Sununu called the complaints some of “the more significant lawsuits the state has ever undertaken.”
The suits allege the chemicals’ makers knew for decades that PFAS could be dangerous, and still allowed it to be used. This has been corroborated by corporate records revealed in past news reports and lawsuits.
“[These companies] were the ones that created it, they were the ones that manufactured it and they were the ones that distributed it,” Sununu says. “And ultimately they’re the ones that have to be held as the primary responsible parties.”
With the lawsuits, New Hampshire joins a handful of other states like New York and Michigan that have sued chemical companies for PFAS contamination.
New Hampshire is also set to become one of only a few states with its own regulations on PFAS in drinking water. Final versions of the state’s new PFAS limits are due out next month.
PFAS is not formally regulated by the federal government, but the Environmental Protection Agency has released health and cleanup guidance in the past and plans to develop more formal regulations in the coming years.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.