PFAS Settlement Reached with DuPont and Johnson Controls
DuPont and several related companies have committed $4 billion to cover liabilities stemming from their past use of toxic “forever chemicals” such as PFAS and PFOA. The group of companies also agreed to pay $83 million to settle multidistrict litigation in Ohio to compensate victims harmed by the chemicals.
In a separate deal, Johnson Controls has agreed to pay $17.5 million to compensate homeowners in Peshtigo, Wisconsin for water contamination caused by firefighting foam.
Background on DuPont and the Settlement
In 2015, E.I. DuPont & Company spun off its subsidiary Chemours, which agreed to assume the environmental liabilities from DuPont. In 2017, DuPont’s parent company joined with Dow Chemical in a $130 billion merger resulting in the creation of DowDuPont Inc. Finally, in 2019 DowDuPont split into three separate companies – Dow, Corteva and DuPont De Nemours.
According to National Law Review, prior to the 2015 spinoff of Chemours, PFAS litigation liabilities was a concern for E.I. DuPont. The potential damage was estimated to range from a mere $300 million to $950 million for cleanup and environmental remediation. Because the estimate was so understated, Chemours later sued DowDuPont for misrepresenting the liabilities the company assumed as part of the deal. For several years the companies argued back and forth in court about which company should be held liable for the massive damages caused by PFAS.
The $4 billion settlement agreement will end the dispute between the companies with each picking up an agreed upon percentage of the total sum.
Johnson Controls Settlement for Firefighting Foam Damage
In January 2021, Johnson Controls agreed to pay $17.5 million to resolve lawsuits from hundreds of homeowners in Peshtigo, Wisconsin claiming their water was contaminated by chemicals in a firefighting foam manufactured by Johnson Controls.
Over 300 homeowners involved in the litigation claim that Johnson Controls subsidiary, Tyco Fire Products, was responsible for releasing firefighting foam that contains PFAS which contaminated private drinking wells. According to the settlement, $15 million will be allocated to property-damage claims while $2.5 million will go to individuals diagnosed with diseases and cancer caused by PFAS contamination.
In a statement, Tyco spokesperson Katie McGinty said “Tyco is pleased to announce that we have reached a settlement agreement with plaintiffs whose private drinking wells were impacted by PFAS from our property. We recognize that dealing with PFAS has been a burden, and we are happy that this important aspect of making the situation right has come together.”
Background and Early Origins of PFAS
PFAS is class of more than 4,000 different chemicals and turns up in many everyday products such as clothing, auto parts, household items, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and firefighting foam. It’s even in the blood of 97% of Americans according to Centers for Disease Control estimates.
Chemists at 3M and DuPont developed the initial PFAS chemicals by accident in the 1930s when researching carbon-based chemical reactions. During one lab experiment, an unusual coating remained in the testing chamber. Upon further investigation, the coating was completely resistant to any methods designed to break apart the atoms within the chemical. The material also had the incredible ability to repel oil and water. DuPont later called the substance PFOA (perfluorooctantic acid), the first PFAS ever invented. DuPont later commercialized PFOA into the revolutionary product that was branded as “Teflon.”
Shortly after DuPont’s discovery, 3M invented its own PFAS chemical known as perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS. The company commercialized PFOS as “Scotchgard” which is used as a stain resister to waterproof materials. Within a short period of time PFAS chemicals were used in hundreds of consumer products.
How is PFAS Used?
PFAS chemicals are widely used in manufacturing to make a large variety of everyday products. The chemicals keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains and make jackets waterproof. PFAS are widely used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics and military.
PFAS can also accumulate in the body through food and food packaging. A 2017 research study found PFAS in one-third of all fast-food wrappers where it can easily migrate into greasy foods. PFAS is also common in microwave popcorn bags which when heated emit PFAS into the popcorn and butter.
PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest in nature, these chemicals do not degrade in the environment, hence the term “forever chemical.” PFAS chemicals don’t easily break down and can persist in your body and the environment for decades. As a result of their pervasiveness, more than 97% of the US population has PFAS in their bodies according the CDC.
Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)
Due to the chemical nature of PFOA and PFOS as a surfactant, it can be mixed with water and sprayed as foam on petroleum-based fires, smothering the fire by separating oxygen from the fuel surface. Firefighting foam was thought to be safe but has been linked to many forms of cancer in those exposed. The firefighting foam or Aqueous Film Forming Foam (“AFFF”) was widely used particularly at municipal airports and military bases for training purposes and to combat jet fuel spills.
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