State lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers drags on

More than eight months after Alaska sued dozens of companies for their role in the release of toxic chemicals into Alaska waters the case is now in multidistrict litigation being heard in South Carolina.

The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has moved forward with a plan to better protect drinking water.

The EPA announced Monday, Dec. 20, action to address the public health and environmental risks of per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency has finalized a rule establishing drinking water monitoring for 29 PFAS substances and lithium.

“With the data provided by this rule, EPA will be able to develop better regulations while the agency, states, and our local partners will be able to make protective public health decisions that are grounded in science,” Regan said.

EPA uses the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to monitor for priority unregulated contaminants in drinking water every five years.

Back on April 7, the state filed a complaint against 3M Company, E.I. DePont de Nemours and Company and dozens of other firms for their part in releasing PFAS into the environment. The lawsuit alleges that for decades these companies knowingly designed, formulated, manufactured, marketed, distributed and/or sold PFAS laden products including one known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is commonly used to extinguish fires involving petroleum or other flammable liquids, including jet fuel.

After the original complaint was filed in Anchorage in early April the cases were removed to federal court in August and transferred to multidistrict litigation, said Aaron Sadler, a special assistant in the Alaska Department of Law in Anchorage. The state supported this transfer, which occurred Dec. 3, Sadler said.

The multidistrict litigation is comprised of about 500 cases pending before the federal court and is being heard in South Carolina, he said. Additional cases are expected to be filed or transferred to that court in the coming months. All of these cases involve varied causes of action and claims relating to PFAS. Plaintiffs generally contend that these aqueous film-forming foams containing PFAS contaminated groundwater near various military bases, airports and other industrial sites where AFFFs were used to extinguish liquid fuel fires, The plaintiffs allege that they were caused personal injury a need for medical monitoring, property damage or other losses, Sadler said.

Alaska’s case is in its briefing stage. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgement and the plaintiffs’ motion in opposition was due Wednesday, Dec. 22. Summary judgment is a judgment entered by the court for one party against another party summarily, without a full trial.

The judge will rule on the motion and if the motion is denied, then trial in three cases is set to begin in the spring, he said.

The Alaska Legislature has under consideration bills to protect the state’s water supplies from contamination by and to test for PFAS in drinking water, and to severely restrict use of such products by permit only.