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Puerto Rico sues chemical manufacturers for ‘forever chemicals’ pollution

Puerto Rico sues manufacturers for ‘forever chemicals’ pollution

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico is suing close to 20 manufacturers of so-called “forever chemicals” in U.S. District Court for polluting natural resources, which with stricter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards now in place will make it costlier for the island government to remove and clean up the substances.

The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources filed suit last Wednesday, May 31, to address contamination of Puerto Rico’s natural resources with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including but not limited to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA a/k/a GenX).

The suit says the defendants, including 3M and Dupont, are responsible for the contamination threatening Puerto Rico’s natural resources and citizens as they designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed and sold a wide range of products that contain PFAS that were used and discharged into the environment through multiple pathways, contaminating natural resources and putting Puerto Rico residents’ health at significant risk. The PFAS products included but were not limited to specialized fire-fighting foams, household and consumer products such as grease-, stain-, and water-repellant cookware; carpeting, clothing, and food packaging; and processing aids used to make different products.

The manufacturers, the suit says, concealed their knowledge that PFAS are toxic and pose significant risks to human health and the environment. Internally, the defendants determined that PFAS are harmful and began accumulating in human blood throughout the country decades ago.

“They further knew that PFAS released and discharged into the environment would reach the commonwealth’s waters and drinking water supplies and build up in people’s bodies as they were continuously exposed to the chemicals over time,” the suit says. “They also knew that PFAS, now commonly known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are persistent and will remain in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, leaving a toxic legacy for future generations of Puerto Ricans and others.”

Based on recent developments, including the EPA’s proposed drinking water regulations for PFAS, the commonwealth is only now in a position to understand the risks posed by PFAS, and by extension, the immense efforts that will be required to remove such chemicals from Puerto Rico’s environment and protect those living on the island from further exposure, the suit says.

In March 2023, the EPA released its proposed drinking water standards for the aforementioned chemicals. It provided notice that the maximum contaminant levels for PFOS and PFOA would be significantly low, at four parts per trillion, the suit says.

“As a result of these proposed regulations, Puerto Rico’s public water suppliers will be required to meet these stringent requirements by constructing and/or updating treatment systems and taking other action in the near future to protect the health of the people of Puerto Rico from this emerging threat,” the government said. “Based on USEPA’s proposed drinking water standards for these PFAS, it is now apparent that addressing the threat to human health and the environment that defendants have caused will require substantial resources and expense.”

The commonwealth will have to pay for monitoring the levels of the chemicals. PFAS sampling in Puerto Rico has been sporadic, conducted chiefly by federal agencies. PFAS contamination has been found at the former U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba, Muñiz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, and Fort Buchanan in Guaynabo, and is believed to have migrated to surrounding areas, polluting groundwater, surface water and additional resources in the surrounding areas, the suit says.

Besides 3M and Dupont, the suit also names as defendants AGC Chemicals Americas, Amerex Corp., Archroma U.S. Inc., Arkema Inc., BASF Corp., Buckeye Fire Equipment Co., Carrier Fire & Security Americas Corp., Carrier Global Corp., ChemDesign Products Inc., Chemguard Inc., Clariant Corp., Corteva Inc., Kidde PLC Inc., National Foam Inc., Chemours Co. and Tyco Fire Products LP.

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