LANSING, Mich. — Michigan on Tuesday sued 3M, DuPont and other companies for financial damages from contamination caused by potentially harmful "forever" chemicals that are turning up in drinking water across the industrial state.
The lawsuitfiled in state court alleges that 17 defendants deliberately concealed the dangers of a class of substances known collectively as PFAS. The filing, announced by state Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Grethen Whitmer, came a year-and-a-half after former Gov. Rick Snyder first stated Michigan's intent to sue Minnesota-based 3M and other unnamed parties.
Michigan is believed to be the third state to file a broad-based suit against multiple manufacturers over PFAS contamination, which has been confirmed at 74 sites and has cost the state at least $25 million annually in recent years for testing and investigations, Nessel said. The compounds, which have been in production since the 1940s, are dubbed "forever chemicals" because they take thousands of years to degrade, and because some accumulate in people's bodies.
"Without widespread investigation, sampling, remediation of state lands and waterways, restoration of impacted natural resources, installation of very costly filtration devices, and other preventative and remedial actions necessary to stop these chemicals from harming our residents and our environment, the presence and migration of PFAS in our state's natural resources and property will continue unchecked and indefinitely," Nessel said, "threatening natural resources, threatening our property and threatening the lives of our state residents."
A spokesman for Delaware-based DuPont said "we are extremely disappointed they have taken this action we believe is without merit."
"While fulfilling our remediation responsibilities continue to be a priority for DuPont, we are, and have always been, committed to upholding the highest standards for the well-being of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate, and we will vigorously defend our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship," Dan Turner said.
A message seeking comment was left with 3M. The suit names other companies, too, including some spun off from DuPont both before and after a 2017 merger with Michigan-based Dow Chemical.
In 2018, 3M agreed to pay Minnesota $850 million to settle a case alleging the manufacturer damaged natural resources and contaminated groundwater by disposing of the chemicals over decades.
Studies have associated certain PFAS chemicals with increased risk of cancer and damage to organs such as the liver and thyroid. The suit alleges that the defendants knew or should have known that the chemicals persist in the environment and do not degrade, that they would inevitably accumulate and build up in humans and animals, and that it is a potential or confirm carcinogen.
"Companies that are responsible for these contaminants must be held accountable," Whitmer said. "Polluters must pay."
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are found in firefighting foam, nonstick pots and pans, water-repellent clothing, and many other household and personal items.
Industries have phased out two of the most-studied versions of PFAS. Manufacturers say newer forms are safer and do not remain in the human body as long as older types. Some researchers say too little is known about them to be sure of that.