PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP/WPRI) — Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha filed a lawsuit Thursday against the manufacturers of so-called “forever chemicals,” commonly referred to as PFAS, saying they have caused significant harm to the state’s residents and natural resources.
Neronha faulted the companies for engaging in what he described as “a massive and widespread campaign to knowingly deceive the public,” moving assets to avoid paying for damages, and manufacturing, marketing and selling hazardous chemicals for decades while knowing the risks.
The 100-page complaint, filed in Providence County Superior Court, alleges the companies violated state environmental and consumer protection laws.
“We are still uncovering the consequences of exposure to these hazardous chemicals by Rhode Islanders, but the burden of this enormous cost should be borne by the companies who made, marketed, and sold these products,” Neronha said.
Andrew Fasoli of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, said not all PFAS are the same and they include a vast family of solid, liquid and gaseous substances.
“We support strong, science-based regulation of PFAS chemistries. But overly broad restrictions on this important technology could significantly harm economic growth, cost countless jobs, damage supply chain resiliency, and hamper businesses and consumers from accessing the products they need,” he said in a statement.
PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to cancer and other health problems in humans. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment and remain in the bloodstream.
“PFAS science is incredibly complex and emerging rapidly but there is no disputing PFAS’ prevalence in the environment or the harm they cause,” Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Terry Gray said.
They were used for years in firefighting foams, nonstick frying pans, water-repellent fabrics, stain-resistant rugs and other products.
Rhode Island’s General Assembly recently prohibited food packaging containing PFAS.
“The General Assembly has shown a commitment to responding to the dangers of PFAS in our day-to-day environment, including drinking water and food packaging,” R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in a joint statement. “We will continue to look for ways to protect Rhode Islanders from the ongoing health threats caused by these harmful chemicals.”
Other states have taken similar actions.
Massachusetts last year sued more than a dozen companies involved in the manufacture or marketing of the chemicals, also alleging they knowingly polluted the environment and endangered public health.