By Clark Mindock
(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court handed 3M, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co, and other manufacturers of toxic “forever chemicals” a major victory on Monday, rejecting a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed about 11.8 million Ohio residents to sue the companies as a group.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio vacated a lower court’s approval of the massive class action, which had put significant legal pressure on the chemical manufacturers to settle the plaintiffs’ claims. The court found that lead plaintiff Kevin Hardwick’s complaint against the manufacturers was too broad and did not directly trace per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found in his body to the defendants such as 3M and DuPont.
The court stated that Hardwick’s complaint rarely specified the actions of any one company, and instead accused the companies collectively of contaminating the environment with the chemicals. Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge noted that while thousands of companies have manufactured PFAS, the case only listed 10 defendants.
The appeals court instructed the lower court to dismiss Hardwick’s lawsuit, which had aimed to force the companies to pay for studies analyzing the health impacts of PFAS and to establish a fund to monitor Ohio residents for health impacts from PFAS exposure.
A 3M spokesperson expressed satisfaction with the decision, while Robert Bilott, an attorney for Hardwick, said the court’s decision goes against the known history of PFAS manufacturing in the United States. Representatives for the other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit is just one of thousands filed against 3M, DuPont, and others in recent years over alleged PFAS contamination. 3M previously agreed to pay $10.3 billion to settle claims of polluting public drinking water with the chemicals, while other companies reached a similar deal with U.S. water providers for $1.19 billion.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled PFAS an “urgent public health and environmental issue” and has taken steps to regulate PFAS, including in drinking water.
(Reporting by Clark Mindock, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Lincoln Feast and Chris Reese)