‘Dark Waters’ attorney Rob Bilott works on sequel with class action lawsuit over ‘forever chemicals’
By Dan Monk | WCPO | April 2, 2020
Read the full article by Dan Monk (WCPO)
“CINCINNATI — Jeff Hermes worked for two decades as an airport fireman, spraying acres of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to suffocate flames from jet engine fuel. He is convinced that exposure led to his 2016 diagnosis for prostate cancer.
‘You were drenched in foam,’ Hermes said. ‘I used that foam virtually daily and weekly for years and years and years. We weren’t told that this is a hazard when people obviously knew.’
Hermes is among millions of Americans who might someday benefit from a class action lawsuit filed against manufacturers of forever chemicals by Rob Bilott, the Cincinnati lawyer made famous by the movie ‘Dark Waters.’ The Taft Law partner won a $671 million settlement on behalf of 3,500 plaintiffs who alleged chemical giant DuPont contaminated their drinking water with PFOA, a forever chemical used to make Teflon.
“Our case isn’t just about firefighters,” Bilott said. “It’s everyone who has these chemicals in their blood.”
That could be 97 percent of Americans, based on a 2015 study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers found perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in serum samples collected for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 and 2012.
PFAS is an umbrella term for thousands of synthetic chemicals that are used to make non-stick coatings for cooking products, stain-repellants for fabrics and food-package coatings that repel water and oil. They’re called forever chemicals because they don’t break down in nature and they accumulate in the bloodstream.
‘The class action that we’re trying to bring at this point is for appropriate health studies and testing,’ Bilott said. ‘We’re not seeking money or damages for anybody who thinks they’ve been injured or harmed by these chemicals.’
DuPont and its 2015 spinoff company, Chemours, are named as defendants by Bilott’s lead plaintiff, Glendale Fire Chief Kevin Hardwick. Other defendants include 3M Company, AGC Chemicals, Daikin Industries Ltd, Solvay Specialty Polymers and 3M Company.
The I-Team contacted all companies named in the complaint. None agreed to an interview. But a few of them testified before Congress in September, including 3M, which made the firefighting foam that Hermes used for decades.
‘3M ceased producing and selling AFFF more than a decade ago,’ Senior Vice President Denise Rutherford told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. ‘We will continue to work with our former customers to ensure that unused 3M firefighting foam is properly handled.’
Rutherford also disputed whether medical studies clearly establish a link between PFAS compounds and various health problems, including cancer.
“There are a lot of inconsistencies in the data,” she said. “We accept that there are associations, which are like leads, places that we should continue to look. And we are in fact doing that. But when we look at that evidence there is no cause and effect for adverse human health effects at the levels we are exposed to as a general population.”
Can you avoid PFAS contamination?
For most people, the biggest risk of contamination is from water pollution, said David Andrews, senior scientist for Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. In January, EWG found PFAS contamination in the tap water of all but one of the 44 water utilities it tested in 2019. Cincinnati’s PFAS concentration of 11.2 parts per trillion ranked 20th on the list. That’s better than the 70 ppt standard that the U.S. EPA established in a non-enforceable guideline announced in 2016. But it’s 11 times the recommended safe level that EWG endorsed in 2019.
Greater Cincinnati Water Works uses granular activated carbon filtration to remove PFAS chemicals from the water it pulls from the Ohio River, said Jeff Swertfeger, superintendent of water quality. He also said PFAS levels have declined in the river since the 1990s and newer versions of PFAS chemicals do not appear to be as harmful.
‘We know they’re there,’ he said. ‘We’re concerned about them. But we’re not panicking.’
The Northern Kentucky Water District also uses carbon filtration to remove PFAS chemicals, but its water intake pumps in the Ohio River saw some of the state’s highest levels of HFPO-DA, a replacement chemical for the more toxic PFOA compound that DuPont phased out in 2009. The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection tested for PFAS compounds at 81 water utilities across the state. Its November 2019 report found no results above 5 ppt, which is well below the EPA’s most restrictive guideline.
‘We think EPA guidelines are inaccurate and behind the times,’ Andrews said. ‘Many states are setting limits for multiple PFAS in the 10 to 20 parts per trillion range, significantly below where the federal EPA has set their health advisory value.’
Beyond drinking water, Andrews said, studies have also shown PFAS contamination can come from household products like microwave popcorn packages and the branded fabric protector Scotchgard…”
This content provided by the PFAS Project.