The city of Philadelphia on Friday sued multiple chemical companies for alleged contamination of city property and resources, including drinking water supplies, by so-called forever chemicals that stay in the body for many years and have been found harmful to human health.
The 55-page complaint, filed in Common Pleas Court, alleges that the defendants, including 3M Co., E. I. DuPont De Nemours and Co., and The Chemours Co., knew or should have known about the dangers of the chemicals, known as PFAS, and then concealed those dangers.
The companies “caused citywide contamination that has injured — and continues to injure — public health, natural resources, property, and the economic well-being of the city and its citizens,” the complaint alleges.
A spokesperson for 3M said in an emailed statement that the company “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”
Representatives for DuPont and Chemours could not be reached for comment.
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, cosmetics, and many other products.
PFAS have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s, and the toxic industrial compounds are associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight. PFAS also are linked to high cholesterol, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia.
“You can’t make a mess and expect others to clean it up,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “The defendants in this case knew their products were dangerous, but selfishly brought them to market anyway in pursuit of profits. This lawsuit will make them pay the costs the City will now need to incur to treat and remove PFAS to proactively protect Philadelphians and the environment.”
While the chemicals have been found in city drinking water, Philadelphia Water Commissioner Randy E. Hayman said that the water has tested below proposed new state limits for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most commonly studied types of PFAS.
Last year, Delaware County sued chemical companies for their alleged roles in PFAS contamination of local firefighting facilities. In 2020, New Jersey authorities sued a chemical company for alleged PFAS contamination from toxic compounds once produced at a plant in Gloucester County.
The Inquirer has previously reported on how the chemicals contaminated a source of drinking water for Bucks and Montgomery County residents living near the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and the Naval Air Station in Willow Grove. The chemicals leached into groundwater and off the bases from firefighting foam.
The Philadelphia lawsuit points to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June of this year updating its advisory levels for types of PFAS because of new research indicating the chemicals are more dangerous than previously known.
As a result, the complaint states, “the city has become aware of the levels of PFAS in drinking water supplies throughout the city that could affect public health. PFAS are also present in surface water, groundwater, air, and sediment throughout the city.”
The complaint adds, “the city has identified multiple contaminated sites and numerous locations where PFAS are known or suspected to have been discharged into the environment. Based on current information, PFAS contamination has occurred throughout the city.”
The lawsuit also points to Philadelphia International Airport and Northeast Philadelphia Airport being contaminated by PFAS used in fire suppressants.
The city says the new understanding of how widespread the contamination is will result in higher costs for cleanups and other responses.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as other forms of relief.