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Michigan files suit against 3M, DuPont and others over PFAS contamination

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan is suing 17 defendants seeking damages for widespreadPFAScontamination. The defendants include industrial giants 3M and DuPont. 

Thelawsuitwas filed in WashtenawCounty Circuit Court on Tuesday.

PFAS are a family of industrial chemicals linked to serious human health issues, including cancer. PFAShave been used in many consumer products and in firefighting foam. 

The lawsuit claims the defendants withheld scientific evidence, and intentionally, knowingly and recklessly sold, distributed, released, transported, supplied, arranged for disposal or treatment, and handled and used PFAS and PFAS-containing materials in Michigan in a way that they knew would contaminate natural resources and expose Michigan residents to harm.

Attorney General Dana Nessel says the companies knowingly concealed the dangers of products containing PFAS.

“The age old story of companies putting their own profits over customers and environmental safety, and gambling on our lives to boost their bottom line,” Nessel told reporters at a late afternoon news conference.

The lawsuit was filed against:

  • Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. – a/k/a 3M;
  • DuPont, including its historic corporate self/identity/entity, as well as its post-merger-and-spinoff self – DuPont de Nemours Inc., a/k/a “New DuPont;”
  • The Chemours Co., a spinoff of DuPont, and its subsidiary (The Chemours Co. FC LLX);
  • Corteva Inc., another DuPont spinoff which was part of Defendant Dow DuPont;
  • Dyneon LLC;
  • Archroma entities;
  • Arkema entities;
  • AGC Chemicals Americas Inc.;
  • Daikin Industries entities;
  • Solvay Specialty Polymers, USA LLC;
  • Asahi Kasei Plastics North America Inc.

A DuPont spokesman says the company is “extremely disappointed” at the filing of the lawsuit, contending the lawsuit is “without merit.”

“DuPont does not make PFOA, PFOS or GenX. Further, DuPont never manufactured or sold firefighting foam. Across our portfolio, DuPont’s use of other PFAS is a small fraction of the total PFAS used in the world. While our use is extremely small, we’re actively pursuing alternatives to PFAS where possible in our manufacturing processes.”

A 3M spokesman also criticized the suit.

3M disagrees with the allegations in this lawsuit. We acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship.

The 3M spokesman went directly after the Attorney General's allegation that it and others concealed the dangers of PFAS. 

We have placed thousands of documents in the public domain, including more than 150 published studies conducted by 3M and other researchers on potential environmental and health effects of PFAS. 3M did not and will not distort the science.

But an investigationby the Detroit Free Press last year revealed that 3M's research found negative effects from PFAS, but the company continued to sell the chemicals for use in products internationally:

The documents obtained from the Minnesota Attorney General's office outline 3M's own research showing its PFAS compounds were not breaking down in the environment, were having negative health effects in laboratory rats and other animals — and that the blood of employees, and the public, had become contaminated with the compounds. As these revelations occurred within the company, 3M continued to sell PFAS compounds for use in products worldwide: in ScotchGard stain protection, Teflon coating on cookware and other products, Gore-Tex water resistant shoes and clothing, sandwich wrapping paper and microwave popcorn bags, aqueous firefighting foam and other industrial uses.

Attorney General Dana Nessel would not put a price tag on the cost of cleaning up 74 sites in Michigan that are contaminated with PFAS.

But in 2018, 3M agreed to pay the state of Minnesota $850 million to settle its PFAS claims. 

Michigan is hardly alone in seeking financial damages for PFAS contamination. New York and New Jersey are among the other states taking the companies that manufactured and used PFAS to court.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says the state needs to go after the companies responsible for the PFAS problem.   

“Companies that are responsible for these contaminants must be held accountable,” says Whitmer. “Polluters must pay.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.