‘Forever chemicals’ lawsuits: Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul sues 18 companies over PFAS contamination

The chemicals also have been found in more than 100 drinking water systems in Illinois, including those in Lake Forest, Waukegan, North Chicago, South Elgin and Crest Hill.

SHARE ‘Forever chemicals’ lawsuits: Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul sues 18 companies over PFAS contamination
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal via AP

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit that aims to force 18 companies he accuses of contaminating the environment with toxic “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, to reimburse the state for investigations and cleanup.

The lawsuit, filed in Madison in Dane County circuit court, says defendants including 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP and BASF Corporation knew or should have known their products are a hazard to the environment and human health.

“The state continues to take necessary actions to protect its natural resources and its residents from harm caused by PFAS contamination,” the lawsuit says. “The state and its taxpayers will need to spend billions of dollars remediating the dangerous PFAS contamination caused by defendants’ wrongful, deceptive and tortious conduct.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and reimbursement for the costs of investigations, cleanup and remediation.

3M’s Sean Lynch said the company acted responsibly and will “vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

Roberto Nelson, a spokesman for BASF, said the company doesn’t believe the lawsuit has merit.

Tyco didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals were developed as coatings to protect consumer goods from stains, water and corrosion. Nonstick cookware, carpets, outdoor gear and food packaging are among items that contain the chemicals. They also are an ingredient in firefighting foams.

They’re often described as “forever chemicals” because some don’t degrade naturally and are believed to be capable of lingering indefinitely in the environment. Research has linked them to an increased risk of cancer, liver damage, high blood pressure and other health threats.

PFAS contamination is a widespread problem in Wisconsin, with the harmful chemicals having been found in the water in places including Madison, Wausau, Marinette and the town of Campbell on French Island.

The chemicals also have been found in more than 100 drinking water systems in Illinois, including, in the Chicago area, in Lake Forest, Waukegan, North Chicago, South Elgin and Crest Hill.

In February, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ policy board adopted limits on PFAS in drinking and surface water but declined to impose limits for groundwater, which has left the chemicals unregulated in wells.

Kaul, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit in Marinette County in March against Johnson Controls and Tyco Fire Products, saying their firefighting foam led to PFAS contamination.

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