Illinois Attorney General sues 3M, other makers of ‘forever chemicals’

Chemicals commonly known as PFAS are tied to cancer and other health conditions.

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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul

Attorney General Kwame Raoul is suing 3M and other makers of “forever chemicals” for contaminating Illinois’ waters and creating a health threat.

AP file

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is suing the makers of so-called forever chemicals that have contaminated multiple sources of drinking water, saying the companies hid threats to public health and the environment.

Raoul is suing 3M and several other large chemical companies that have in their past had some role in making a class of chemicals used in non-stick pans, clothing, furniture, water and stain repellents, food packaging and thousands of other products.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are tied to some types of cancer, liver damage and other health conditions. Minnesota-based 3M has promised to stop making PFAS products by the end of 2025.

In his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Circuit Court of Cook County, Raoul seeks to recover environmental damage as well as money from the companies “necessary for Illinois to continue identifying, monitoring” PFAS contamination.

The state’s environmental officials identified more than 100 drinking water systems around Illinois, including Chicago’s suburbs, that have measurable levels of PFAS. Separately, a recent study found that fish from the Great Lakes and other fresh water sources tested for high levels of the chemicals.

“By manufacturing and sending into Illinois these chemicals while misleading the public about their toxic properties, defendants have caused widespread contamination and injuries to Illinois’ natural resources and have caused releases of PFAS into the environment at concentrations that exceed applicable Illinois health advisories,” Raoul’s lawsuit said.

Last year, Raoul filed another lawsuit against 3M, specifically related to contamination around a company plant north of the Quad Cities.

A 3M spokesman said in a statement the company “acted responsibly in connection with its manufacturing operations and products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

Others named in the suit include DuPont plus several related companies, BASF, Bayer, Daikin and Solvay.

“It’s extremely helpful to have state attorneys general to hold these polluters accountable for costs,” said Erik Olson, a senior strategic director for health with the environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council.

Drinking water systems will spend millions, “if not billions,” of dollars to remove PFAS, Olson said.

The chemicals get their forever nickname because they are very difficult to destroy, won’t break down in the environment and are unlikely to pass through the human body. U.S. health officials estimate 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood.

The ubiquitous chemicals are present in so many products, from microwave popcorn to dental floss to grease resistant fast-foot packaging, that some health and environmental advocates are pressing for states to ban PFAS.

“These legal suits are kind of helpful for historic damages,” said Sonya Lunder, senior toxics policy adviser with the Sierra Club. “But the reality is these chemicals are being pumped out for dental floss and burger wrappers.”

Lunder said Colorado, where she’s based, passed a PFAS ban much like one that has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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