May 03, 2023

Pennsylvania AG seeks repayment for cleanup of 'Forever Chemicals'

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry is taking chemical giant DuPont and two other companies to court to try to recoup the clean-up costs of so-called ‘forever chemicals,’ across the state.

Henry, acting on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Protection, announced late last week that her office had filed the complaint in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, seeking restitution, civil penalties, and other costs "to be determined."

DuPont, The Chemours Company, and Corteva Inc., each are named as defendants in the 110-page complaint, which alleges the companies knew for decades that the chemicals "carried risks of harm to the environment and to human health," and that they "actively concealed adverse information and resisted calls to conduct further studies as they continued to profit."

The chemicals, formally known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or as PFAS chemicals, have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, the Capital-Star reported in 2020.

The chemicals are used for a variety of purposes, including making waterproof cosmetics, stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting to non-stick cookware. They’re also used in fire-fighting foam at military installations, leading to contamination at scores of military bases, including an air station in suburban Philadelphia.

"For decades, these companies have known of the dangers and damages these products can inflict on humans, animals, and our natural resources," Henry said in a statement.

Policymakers at the state and federal level have spent years trying to address the environmental and public health hazards posed by the chemicals.

In February, Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman announced that the state was set to receive $75 million through the federal infrastructure law to help fight PFAS contamination in drinking water.

In a statement at the time, the Scranton Democrat said the money was a "strong start to clean up PFAS contamination in Pennsylvania's waters."

And in April, firefighters called on Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro to remove the chemicals from their protective gear, the Capital-Star's Marley Parish reported.

"Changes need to be made by manufacturers to remove this life-threatening chemical from our gear," Pat Miller, an Altoona firefighter, said.

During that stop in Blair County, which was part of a statewide tour promoting the Democratic governor's proposed $44.4 billion budget plan, Shapiro said his office was committed to that cause.

"We are going to work together to make sure we get PFAS out of the equipment that we’re asking you to wear," Shapiro said at an appearance outside the Altoona Fire Department. "We’re already on that issue."

In March, the Republican-controlled state Senate approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, prohibiting the use of Class B firefighting foams with PFAS for training purposes, the Capital-Star previously reported.

The bill is currently before the House's Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

A study released last year revealed that the spread of the chemicals has left few parts of the country untouched, with the true scope of the problem most likely "dramatically underreported," according to one expert.

The research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, identifies more than 57,000 sites potentially contaminated by the chemicals.

The 57,412 sites with potential contamination "include places where PFAS-laden firefighting foam, known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, was likely released; certain industrial facilities; sites related to PFAS-containing waste; military sites and airports," according to the Environmental Working Group.

The study was led by a team at Northeastern University in Boston, and was joined by researchers elsewhere, the advocacy group said in a statement last fall.

"The true scale of PFAS contamination in the United States is likely dramatically underreported," David Andrews, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group said in a statement. "As PFAS are found to be harmful at lower and lower levels, it is critically important to identify sources of potential contamination and take steps to protect downstream communities who may be unwittingly exposed."

In her office's statement, Henry echoed language in the state Constitution, noting that "Pennsylvanians have a right to breathe clean air and drink clean water."

Her office's legal action "seeks recovery of costs related to cleaning up these harmful chemicals, as well as penalties against companies who have chosen to look the other way," Henry said.

by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-Star June 8, 2023

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A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek's career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek's first novel, "Ordinary Angels," was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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