Federal Judge Denies Attempt by 3M to Evade PFAS Accountability

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By Michael DiGiannantonio

A federal district judge rejected 3M’s summary judgment arguments that the company should be treated as a government contractor and given immunity from being held liable for damages caused by PFAS produced by the company.

The court explained that the Defendants, “as manufacturers of C8-based [PFAS] products at issue in this litigation, had significantly greater knowledge than the government about the properties and risks associated with their products and knowingly withheld highly material information from the government.” The court went on to say that there were “numerous instances in which 3M knowingly withheld highly material information about defects and risks associated with its AFFF product” and provided examples of this.

The court noted that in 1975, two independent toxicologists found an unidentified organic fluorine compound in human blood. A year later, a team headed by 3M scientists confirmed that the toxicologists’ findings reflected the presence of PFOS. Yet, 3M told no one outside the company of this finding for nearly 25 years, and an internal document shows that 3M’s own lawyers urged the company not to release the true identity of the compound. A few years later, a 3M scientist published an article stating that the mystery compound was not man-made, but instead was a naturally occurring substance. The court noted that while 3M was assuring the public and the government that PFOS was not a threat to health or environment, its own Manager of Corporate Toxicology was reporting internally that PFOS-based chemistry was “insidiously toxic” and thus 3M needed to replace it.

Similarly, the court stated that in 1988, 3M’s own Environmental Specialist advocated against “perpetuat[ing] the myth that these fluorochemical surfactants are biodegradable,” noting that this falsehood would likely be discovered, causing 3M embarrassment, fines and withdrawal of products. A 3M advertising brochure stated that its AFFF product was “neither toxic nor corrosive” and “biodegradable” while internally, 3M documents indicated the opposite.

The court also explained that from the 1970s on, 3M conducted over 1,000 studies related to potential health and environmental effects of PFOS that should have all been disclosed to the EPA. It was not until 1998 that 3M began disclosing these studies. The court focused heavily on the ramifications of 3M’s delayed release of these studies, noting that “3M’s late disclosure of over 1,200 reports and studies between 1998 and 2000 has unleashed significant scientific inquiry and investigations both within the EPA and the general scientific community.”

The court concluded that there were material factual disputes concerning whether 3M’s decades-long delay in disclosing its internal studies about the health and environmental effects of PFOS (and related compounds) slowed the government’s knowledge and understanding of the danger PFOS posed.

This ruling is an important step forward for all MDL plaintiffs towards holding PFAS manufacturers accountable for covering the billions of dollars required to remove PFAS from water systems.

For more information about joining MDL-2873 contact SL Environmental Law Group at www.slenvironment.com.

Michael DiGiannantonio is an attorney at SL Environmental Law Group. This article is sponsored content from SL Environmental Law.

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