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PG County sues 3M, DuPont over ‘forever chemicals’ in waterways

Prince George’s County is suing a group of chemical companies for their handling of PFAS — also known as “forever chemicals” — that have been identified in Maryland’s waterways.

PFAS — per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are found in many products, from clothing and furniture to food packaging and fire suppressants. The chemicals break down incredibly slowly, contaminate soil and drinking water, and can build up in wildlife and humans.

In Prince George’s County, PFAS have been found in “alarming concentrations” in bodies of water, including recently in the tissue of fish taken from Piscataway Creek.

The new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland last week, seeks to hold accountable the chemical companies that made products containing PFAS and, the complaint alleges, covered up evidence of the threat they posed to humans and the environment.

The complaint names 3M, DuPont and more than 20 other companies as defendants and accuses them of failing to warn the public that their products could be harmful.

The lawsuit requests damages and declaratory judgment that would require the defendants to pay abatement costs.

A spokesperson for DuPont did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the lawyer for Prince George’s County, Martin E. Wolf.

In an email, 3M communications manager Sean Lynch said, “3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS, including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

According to the lawsuit, 3M developed AFFF in the early 1960s in order to suppress flammable liquid fires that can’t be put out with water. The product is widely used to extinguish fires involving fuel and oil.

“For decades, PFAS-based AFFF products have been stored and used for fire suppression, fire training, and flammable vapor suppression at hundreds of locations, such as fire training schools, military installations, and civilian airports, as well as at petroleum refineries, storage facilities, and chemical manufacturing plants throughout the United States, including in Prince George’s County,” the complaint alleges.

The five-count complaint accuses the companies of creating a public nuisance, failing to warn of the risks of their products, selling defective products, trespass and negligence.

PFAS are extremely difficult to remove from the environment because they break down slowly and move easily through ecosystems, where they can “bioaccumulate” in animals and humans. Their effects on humans in low levels are still being studied, according to the CDC, but animal studies have found they can harm a variety of body functions.

The complaint claims that there are many facilities that use AFFF products in and around Prince George’s County, including airports, firefighting training grounds and military installations.

The use of products containing PFAS has led to contamination in the county’s waterways, the complaint alleges.

Maryland’s Department of the Environment issued its first-ever fish consumption warning based on PFAS levels on Oct. 15, 2021. The advisory recommended limiting consumption of certain types of fish in parts of Piscataway Creek.

Prince George’s County is responsible for maintaining local stormwater systems and natural resources — a job that will be more difficult because of PFAS contamination, the complaint claims.

“In short, the normal, intended, and foreseeable manner of storage, use, and disposal of Defendants’ AFFF products directly resulted in the discharge or release of PFAS into, onto, and near Prince George’s County’s environmental and infrastructural resources, causing injury to the County and its inhabitants.” the county wrote in the lawsuit.