New Hampshire sues 3M, DuPont, other chemical companies

FILE - In this Monday, April 11, 2016 file photo, New Hampshire state and local officials load boxes of free bottled water in in Litchfield, N.H. New Hampshire is suing eight companies including 3M and Dupont for damage it says has been caused statewide by a class of potentially toxic chemicals found in everything from pizza boxes to fast-food wrappers. The state becomes the second in the nation to go after the makers of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS and the first to target statewide contamination. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire has sued eight companies including 3M and the DuPont Co. for damage it says has been caused statewide by a class of potentially toxic chemicals found in pizza boxes, fast-food wrappers and drinking water.

The state becomes the second in the nation to go after the makers and distributors of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS and the first to target statewide contamination. The lawsuit also names Chemours Company, Chemguard Inc., Tyco Fire Products, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Kidde-Fenwal Inc. and National Fire Foam Inc.

New York state has sued six companies that made firefighting foam containing PFOS and/or PFOA chemicals that it says have contaminated drinking water in two communities and groundwater in another.

"The actions we are taking today is intended to ensure that those responsible for PFAS contamination to our state's drinking water supplies and other natural resources are held accountable," New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon McDonald said. "As alleged in the lawsuits, the defendants possessed unique knowledge of the dangers of PFAS chemicals but continued to make or sell them without warning the public of their health risks."

Messages seeking comment were sent to all the companies.

A spokesman for Johnson Controls whose brands include Tyco and Chemguard defended the use of firefighting foams, which include PFAS.

"Tyco and Chemguard acted appropriately and responsibly at all times in producing our firefighting foams," Fraser Engerman, the director of global media relations for Johnson Controls, said in a statement.

"We make our foams to exacting military standards, and the U.S. military and civilian firefighters have depended for decades on these foams to extinguish life-threatening fires," he continued. "They continue to use them safely and reliably for that purpose today."

In an emailed statement, 3M said it "acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS" and would "vigorously defend its environmental stewardship."

The substances have been used in coatings meant to protect consumer goods and are commonplace in households across the United States. Firefighting foam containing PFAS has seeped into groundwater and waterways around military bases, airports and fire stations.

Studies have found potential links between high levels of PFOA in the body and a range of illnesses including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies. And because they persist for so long in the environment, PFAS has been dubbed a forever chemical.

The moves by New Hampshire come as states around the country are growing impatient waiting for the federal government to address widespread contamination — especially setting standards on the amount of chemicals that considered safe in drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has established a nonbinding health advisory threshold of 70 parts per trillion, earlier this year announced plans to consider limits on the toxic chemicals.

New Jersey has set more stringent standards for some PFAS chemicals, and Vermont has passed legislation requiring standards be set for drinking water. New Hampshire has proposed drinking water standards ranging from 23 parts per trillion to 85 parts per trillion depending on the chemical.

The challenge for regulators is tracking down and treating a chemical that seems to be everywhere, from materials in landfills to the drinking water of homeowners, to the rivers where people fish.

EPA-mandated testing of about 5,000 of the roughly 150,000 public water systems in the U.S. completed in 2016 found dangerous levels of the same two PFAS compounds in 66 systems. Local and state testing since then has identified high levels in additional systems.

In New Hampshire, the state has been forced to connect more than 700 homes to new water systems in four communities due to PFAS contamination. It estimates that the contamination could end up impacting 100,000 people, with damages reaching several hundred million dollars.

In the lawsuits filed Wednesday in state court, New Hampshire does not seek a specific dollar amount for damages. The state wants the companies pay for the cost of investigating, cleaning up and remediating contamination related to groundwater, surface water and other natural resources.

It accused DuPont and 3M of knowing the dangers of PFAS compounds going back as far as the 1950s but not making it public while continuing to market the compounds.

"It is my hope that those responsible for the manufacturer and distribution of PFAS will recognize the severity of the issues they have caused and will become part of the solution," McDonald said.

Last month, Vermont announced a settlement with a plastics company that would help hundreds of people in the Bennington area whose drinking water wells had been contaminated by chemicals. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics agreed to extend municipal water lines to more homes.

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This story has been corrected to identify one of the companies as DuPont, not Dupont.

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