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Wisconsin AG sues 18 companies over PFAS contamination

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Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force 18 companies that he alleges contaminated the environment with chemicals known as PFAS to reimburse the state for investigations and cleanup efforts.

The lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, names as defendants companies including 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, and BASF Corporation. The filing alleges the defendants knew or should have known that their products would have a dangerous impact on the public’s health and environment.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for the costs of investigations, cleanup and remediation.

“To this day, the State continues to take necessary actions to protect its natural resources and its residents from harm caused by PFAS contamination,” the lawsuit states. “The State and its taxpayers will need to spend billions of dollars remediating the dangerous PFAS contamination caused by Defendants’ wrongful, deceptive and tortious conduct.”

The state lawsuit echoes claims made by Dane County and other municipalities who have sought to hold manufacturers accountable for cleanup costs associated with the use of firefighting foam. Chemguard and its parent company in June had the Dane County case moved to federal court, where it has been consolidated with hundreds of similar cases.

3M communications manager Sean Lynch said in a statement the company acted responsibly and will “vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

Roberto Nelson, a spokesperson for BASF, said the company doesn’t believe the lawsuit has merit.

Tyco spokesperson Karen Marie Tognarelli said in a statement that the company is working to clean up PFAS contamination and the lawsuit won’t stop it from “doing the right thing and leading on the PFAS clean up.”

PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals were developed as coatings to protect consumer goods from stains, water and corrosion. Nonstick cookware, carpets, outdoor gear and food packaging are among items that contain the chemicals. They also are an ingredient in firefighting foams.

They’re often described as “forever chemicals” because some don’t degrade naturally and are believed to be capable of lingering indefinitely in the environment. Research suggests that they may cause health problems in humans.

PFAS contamination is a widespread problem in Wisconsin. A host of communities, including Marinette, the town of Campbell on French Island, Madison and Wausau have discovered the chemicals in their water.

The state Department of Natural Resources’ policy board adopted limits on PFAS in drinking and surface water in February. The board refused to impose limits for groundwater, leaving the chemicals unregulated in wells.

Environmental reporter Chris Hubbuch's favorite stories of 2021

Stories are a bit like children when it comes to picking favorites. But then who has room in their wallet for pictures of 278 kids? So here are five that kind of stand out in my mind. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them. 

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