More than a dozen large manufacturing companies are responsible for millions of dollars in damages to communities across Massachusetts for “knowingly contaminating” drinking water sources, groundwater, and other natural resources with toxic chemicals that threaten the public health and the environment, Attorney General Maura Healey alleged in a lawsuit.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in a federal court in South Carolina, alleges that 15 companies violated state and federal laws that protect drinking water and prohibit consumer deception by marketing, manufacturing, and selling a foam widely used to fight liquid fires that contained toxic PFAS chemicals to residents, local fire departments, businesses, and a range of government entities throughout Massachusetts.
Healey alleged that the companies were well aware of the dangers of the toxic compounds known as PFAS, which are also called “forever chemicals,” because they don’t fully break down in the environment. Tiny amounts have been linked to cancer, low infant birth weights, and a range of diseases.
“For decades, these manufacturers knew about the serious risks … yet they did nothing about it,” Healey said in a statement. “As a result of this deception, our municipalities are spending millions of dollars to provide safe drinking water to their residents. I am suing today to hold these manufacturers accountable, require them to pay the growing costs these communities are shouldering, and repair our state’s precious natural resources that have been damaged by these illegal actions.”
The complaint, which will be consolidated with hundreds of similar lawsuits brought by state attorneys general, municipalities, and private and public water districts, names major chemical companies, including 3M, AGC Chemical Americas, Archroma U.S. Inc., The Chemours Company, and DuPont de Nemours Inc.
Officials at the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for chemical companies, declined to comment.
But officials at 3M defended their use of what’s known as Aqueous Film-Forming Foam, calling it “a critical tool developed to serve an important need for military service members facing potentially life-threatening challenges.”
“To this day, the only product that meets the military specification governing firefighting foam is PFAS-based AFFF, due to these substances’ unique and life-saving properties,” said Sean Lynch, a spokesman for the company. “3M acted responsibly in connection with its manufacture and sale of AFFF and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”
The state’s lawsuit alleges that the companies’ products contaminated more than 126 public drinking water systems in 86 communities, including those in Abington, Stow, and Weymouth. They have also contaminated rivers, estuaries, soils, and critical habitats for marine life from Cape Ann to Cape Cod.
The firefighting foam, which has been used since the 1960s to suppress fires ignited by aviation fuels, has been used widely for training purposes by fire departments.
State officials noted that they have already spent more than $110 million to address PFAS contamination across Massachusetts. They also set some of the nation’s most stringent standards for drinking water, requiring providers of public water to find alternative sources if their wells are found to contain concentrations of more than 20 parts per trillion of six of the chemicals.
“The AG’s suit against these companies is another momentous step forward in safeguarding our drinking water sources and protecting public health,” said Beth Card, secretary of the state’s executive office of energy and environmental affairs, in a statement.
Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, added: “With this legal action, the Commonwealth is taking an important step to help us and those communities that are currently bearing the burden of addressing this pollution.”
State lawmakers, including Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano, as well as environmental advocates, said they supported the lawsuit.
State Representative Kate Hogan, a Stow Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s PFAS Interagency Task Force, accused the companies of putting “profits ahead of people.”
“For far too long, manufacturers have eluded responsibility for damages to public health and the environment caused by PFAS in firefighting foam,” she said. “Massachusetts is sending a clear message that the state will not tolerate endangerment of our residents and natural resources.”
The complaint also alleges that the manufacturers deceptively advertised the firefighting foam as safe, even after they learned of the dangers and began using other substances. They also submitted false information to the US Environmental Protection Agency and sought to prevent workers from discussing the risks of using the chemicals, the lawsuit alleges.
The state has asked the court to require the companies to cover the costs of cleaning and restoring the environment as well reimbursing the state for its costs, among other things.
Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a statewide advocacy group, said the lawsuit was long-incoming.
“Holding companies responsible for any damage their product causes is a bedrock principle of fairness, accountability, and restitution,” she said. “Healey’s action today will hold the polluters accountable and leverage the resources necessary to clean up the toxic waste left behind.”
The lawsuit also names Arkema, Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment, Chemguard Inc., Clarinet Corporation, Dynax Corporation, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Kidde-Fenwal Inc., National Foam Inc., Tyco Fire Products LP, and Corteva Inc.