When it comes to cancer-causing substances, most people have probably never heard of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). This is problematic because such substances are present in almost every aspect of life. In fact, it is present in many food processing applications, commercial household products, electronics, and even drinking water due to environmental contamination.
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What is PFAS?
PFAS is a blanket term referring to a group of human-made chemicals used in the manufacturing industry. As mentioned above, it is found in many products that we use every day because of their grease, oil, water, and heat-resistant properties.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 5,000 known types of PFAS are more widely used and studied than others. Among the most common uses of it are in food processing equipment, such as in non-stick cookware. It is also used to make grease-proof food packagings, such as pizza delivery boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
Are PFAS dangerous?
The FDA has been regulating the use of PFAS for food contact applications in the United States since the 1960s. When credible scientific information casts a shadow over a certain item’s safety, the FDA will immediately take action and ensure that the concerned substances are no longer used in food contact applications.
However, it’s worth noting that the scientific community’s understanding of PFAS and its effects on the human body and the environment is still developing. As long as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health effects of long-term exposure, consumers must always exercise caution and avoid using products laced with PFAS whenever possible.
This is because certain kinds of PFAS can stay and accumulate in the human body for a long time. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, at least 97% of Americans have traces of PFAS in their blood. This means that by the time the scientific community has been aware of its effects, many of the population may already be at greater risk of developing cancer!
This is particularly true with Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two common PFAS chemicals used to manufacture many everyday household items. Both substances are no longer produced in the US, but not before thousands of lives had been endangered.
How DuPont’s use of PFOA put more than 70,000 people at risk
PFOA, which chemical company DuPont used to make Teflon until 2013, is a prime example of why people should be wary of products using PFAS. In a massive study involving 70,000 people living in the Mid-Ohio Valley, researchers found that long-term exposure and accumulation of PFOA in the human body increased the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as kidney, testicular, prostate, and ovarian cancers.
The researchers also found that the Washington Works DuPont Teflon-manufacturing plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, had started releasing PFOA to the environment via aerial emissions and the Ohio River since the 1950s. PFOA made it into the groundwater and contaminated hundreds of private drinking water wells and six public water districts in Ohio and West Virginia.
DuPont stopped using PFOA in 2013; however, by then, the damage had been done.
The researchers found that the study participants had been drinking groundwater contaminated with cancer-causing PFOA from the 1950s to at least until 2013—resulting in at least 18 recorded cases of cancer diagnosed from 1996 to 2015 in five Ohio and eight West Virginia counties.
3M: The company that started it all
It’s currently unclear who first developed the processes to produce PFAS commercially. However, what’s certain is that in the 1950s, emerging conglomerate 3M was among the first to manufacture PFOA and PFOS for use in their products. The most famous product to have contained PFOA was Scotchgard™, a stain and water repellent chemical commonly applied to fabric, furniture, and carpets.
In the 1960s, 3M even supplied the United States Navy with PFAS to develop firefighting foams. This led to creating the Aqueous Film Forming Foam, which the US military used to fight complex liquid fuel fires.
As we know today, mounting pressure from the scientific community and evidence of toxicity lead to 3M voluntarily phasing out PFOS and PFOA in the United States in 2000. However, by then, PFOS and PFOA had been accumulating in people’s blood for more than 40 years.
Could companies using PFAS be held liable for wrongful death and product liability?
Ever since government agencies and the public became fully aware of the health hazards posed by using PFOA and PFOS, Dupont and 3M have been embroiled in civil lawsuits.
In 2010, the State of Minnesota sued 3M for $5 billion in punitive damages for releasing PFAS into local waterways. Former Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson asserted that 3M “knew about the risks of the chemicals to the drinking water, the environment, and human health for decades but concealed its knowledge, subverted the science and kept pushing the chemicals out the door.” 3M denies this claim.
However, according to an article published by The Intercept, evidence unearthed during the lawsuit revealed that 3M researchers documented and realized that PFOS and PFOA had been accumulating in fish since the 1970s. The evidence released by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office also revealed that 3M’s own scientists had gathered evidence of the chemicals’ effects on the immune system.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s office argued that 3M polluted groundwater with PFAS compounds and “knew or should have known” that these chemicals harm human health and the environment. The plaintiffs also argued that the chemicals resulted in “injury, destruction, and loss of natural resources of the State.”
The documents released by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office also revealed that 3M downplayed the toxic effects of PFOA and PFOS by withholding information for more than four decades. According to The Intercept, this resulted in the delay of regulatory action that would have at least reduced the levels of accumulation in the environment and people’s blood.
The case was eventually settled for $850 million in 2018. While it can be argued that 3M, as a company, acted reasonably and made prudent steps into phasing out the harmful chemicals from their manufacturing process, there’s no erasing the damage that PFOA and PFOS had caused.
DuPont has since paid more than $1 billion in class-action settlements for over 3,500 personal injury claims filed by people living near its Parkesburg plant. Despite paying its dues and phasing out PFOA, DuPont is still not out of the woods.
This is because GenX, another PFAS that DuPont used to replace PFOA in Teflon manufacturing, has also been found to cause similar animals’ health hazards. The data source is DuPont itself, as they filed 16 reports of “substantial risk of injury to health or the environment” in keeping with Section 8 (e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
According to the report unearthed by The Intercept, GenX changed the size and weight of animals’ livers and kidneys, altered their immune responses, and introduced weight gain and reproductive problems. Furthermore, the report also detailed that rats exposed to varying amounts of GenX over two years developed cancerous tumors in the liver, pancreas, and testicles.
That being said, DuPont’s senior research Toxicologist Satheesh Anand maintained that the findings are not valid for human risk assessment. DuPont claims that the tumor formation mechanism in rats is unlikely to be the same as with humans.
However, DuPont also took the same position about C8 (another name for PFOA) when researchers found that lab animals developed testicular tumors. Unfortunately for the chemicals company, a 2004 research later also connected PFOS to testicular cancer in people.
How can a personal injury lawyer help?
If you or someone you know has suffered medical conditions, like cancer or non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, due to long-term exposure to PFAS, it’s a good idea to contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. As stated above, even multinational conglomerates like 3M and DuPont can be held liable for people’s suffering.
While civil lawsuits technically do not require a legal representative, remember that the entities involved in PFAS production and manufacturing are not small businesses. Companies like 3M and DuPont are large multinational conglomerates with armies of lawyers and a blank check to spend in lawsuits. This means that to have any chance of getting compensation for your suffering and medical expenses, you need the expertise of a personal injury lawyer.
Here are three ways that a personal injury lawyer can help with your PFAS lawsuit:
1. Personal injury lawyers can prevent technicalities from throwing your case off-court
Most people don’t realize that a significant chunk of filing a lawsuit is about filing the right paperwork within prescribed deadlines. Without proper documentation, a judge can declare your claim as a mistrial due to an error in the proceedings.
Besides ensuring that the paperwork is correct, you also need to submit it on time. This is what lawyers call the statute of limitations. In Florida, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is four years from the date of the incident. Typically, missing the four-year statute of limitations means that you don’t have a claim anymore.
However, there are situations where a court can extend the statute of limitations. This applies to victims who might not “discover” that they suffered harm for some time after the incident. Since the toxic effects of PFAs on the human body can take decades to appear, there’s a good chance that a court can still hear your case beyond the standard four-year limit.
However, courts generally reserve the right to grant those exceptions and evaluate each case individually. This makes hiring a personal injury lawyer incredibly helpful to argue your case.
2. Personal injury lawyers have the expertise to defend your claim in court
As a private citizen going against multinational conglomerates like 3M and DuPont, you will need all the help you can get. When filing a lawsuit due to PFAS exposure, you will need to prove that the prolonged exposure to the particular chemicals in the products you use was the proximate cause of your injuries.
Proving proximate cause can be especially tricky in PFAS lawsuits. This is because while ample research has found links between prolonged exposure to some PFAS chemicals and health hazards like cancer, the data is generally not enough to establish causation.
This means that lawyers from the opposing side can easily argue that other factors could have also contributed to cancer development. A skilled personal injury lawyer will help you get compensation for your medical problems, whether it be through settlement or winning a case.
3. Personal injury lawyers have connections that you may not have
Going against a multinational company is not a walk in the park, even in the best of times. If you want to have any hope of getting compensation, you’ll need to hire a personal injury lawyer.
A competent and experienced attorney will help you prove that the defendant is responsible for your sickness or injuries. Additionally, the court may also require you to establish that your PFAS exposure is the proximate cause of your health conditions and injuries.
Defendants will find it hard to deny the causal connection between PFAS exposure and your particular medical condition, such as cancer. However, the second part can be tricky to establish, as government bodies have stopped short of classifying PFAS as confirmed human carcinogens. In 2016, the International Agency For Research on Cancer classified PFOA as Group 2b, a possible human carcinogen. However, a competent attorney will still be able to make a case.
Your lawyer will work with investigators and subject matter experts to bolster your claim and help calculate the extent of damages that PFAS may have directly caused you. The damages may include—but are not limited to—medical bills, loss of income, reduced ability to earn income, and pain and suffering.
Hire A Lawyer That Specializes in Personal Injuries
It’s best to hire lawyers who specialize in personal injuries to increase the chances of you getting compensation for your injuries. They understand the ins and outs of winning such claims in court and will have the resources to make your case. In the worst-case scenario where you lose your case or can’t arrive at a settlement, most personal injury lawyers won’t even charge you. This means that unless you get compensated for your injuries, your lawyer works with you for free!
Are you looking for personal injury lawyers in Florida to help you out with a PFAS cancer lawsuit? Shiner Law Group’s personal injury lawyers will help you get compensation for losses caused by someone else’s negligence. Our areas of practice include medical malpractice, product liability, wrongful death, and more. Contact us today for a free case consultation!