The governing board of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency is meeting in closed session Friday to discuss a 36-page complaint against manufacturing giant 3M and more than a dozen other businesses in October 2020, accusing them of poisoning the state’s water supply with their products.
The lawsuit claims that from the 1960s through the present, the company has manufactured and distributed “fluorosurfactant products” — known to the average consumer as chemicals that create Teflon coating, “Scotchgard,” stainproofing compounds, waxy surfaces and aqueous film-forming foam (“AFFF”), a firefighting agent used to control and extinguish Class B fuel fires.
SCV Water officials estimate the total cost of removal of those fluorosurfactant products from the agency’s water supply, which is traditionally a blend of local and imported water, to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“During these activities, defendants’ fluorosurfactant products were stored, used, cleaned up, and/or disposed of as directed and intended by the defendants, which allowed PFOS, PFOA and/or their chemical precursors to enter the environment, and migrate through the soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater, thereby contaminating plaintiff’s property,” according to SCV Water’s summary of the case.
“PFOS and PFOA are manmade chemicals within a class known as perfluoroalkyl acid,” part of the “larger chemical family” known as PFAS, according to the lawsuit.
“PFOS and PFOA are highly water soluble, which increases the rate at which they spread throughout the environment, contaminating soil, groundwater and surface water,” the suit alleges. “PFOS and PFOA are readily absorbed in animal and human tissues after oral exposure and accumulate in the serum, kidney and liver.”
A spokesperson for 3M issued a statement Monday afternoon in response to a request for comment on the claims made in the lawsuit:
“As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS,” according to an email Monday from Grant Thompson, community engagement and public relations senior specialist for 3M. “We have and will continue to deliver on our commitments — including remediating PFAS, investing in water treatment and collaborating with communities. 3M will continue to address PFAS litigation by defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate.”
Every year, the water agency updates the public on its efforts to remove PFAS, which are also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, from the local water supply.
The efforts to remove the chemical have been under way for years, but there’s still significant infrastructure work the agency is conducting to remediate its water supply.
In following agency policy, SCV Water declined to comment on any current or pending litigation, according to an email Monday from Kevin Strauss, a spokesman for the agency, making it unclear if there’s any sort of progress in the suit that’s being discussed.
What’s been left behind from years of design and manufacture of fluorosurfactant products is the problem, according to claims in the lawsuit.
The local water agency has listed 10 causes of action against the defendants — DuPont and its successor companies, Chemguard, Tyco Fire Products, Raytheon, Chemours, Corteva and a number of manufacturers — claiming in its lawsuit the information about the dangers of 3M’s products have been known to the company for more than 40 years.
“In 1980, 3M published data in peer reviewed literature showing that humans retain PFOS in their bodies for years,” according to the lawsuit. “Based on that data, 3M estimated that it could take a person up to 1.5 years to clear just half of the accumulated PFOS from their body after all exposures had ceased.”
There’s been no indication of how much SCV Water is seeking in damages, but the agency’s goal is “to recover compensatory and/or consequential damages for all past and future costs to investigate, treat, remediate, remove, dispose of, and/or monitor the PFOS and PFOA contamination of plaintiff’s property caused by the handling, storage, release, use, or disposal of defendants’ fluorosurfactant products at and/or in the vicinity of plaintiff’s property, as well as any and all other damages recoverable under California and/or applicable federal laws.”
The agency is also seeking restitution for the loss of property value, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
“To date, SCV Water has spent approximately $25 million on capital improvement projects to address PFAS contamination, as well as approximately $2.5 million in operating and maintenance costs (2021 to today),” according to an email from Strauss. “SCV Water estimates spending $200 million in capital improvement projects at complete buildout of the agency’s (capital improvement project) plan, as well as an estimated $15 million annually for operating and maintenance costs.”
The latest report from the water agency indicates a decline in the maximum detected level of PFAS, but the average levels have increased, according to reports from the past three years, for the Santa Clarita Water District service area. That service area provides water to a portion of the city of Santa Clarita and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, including Saugus, Canyon Country and Newhall, with 83% of that water being imported water and 17% local.
“SCV Water has also secured a total of $9,513,862 in PFAS funding from grant programs and will continue to work with state and federal elected officials, and their respective administrations, to seek additional grant funding to help offset a portion of these estimated costs,” Strauss added.
He said the agency also has costs associated with PFAS-related studies, bench scale testing, laboratory equipment and certification, testing costs and other expenses related to eliminating potential contaminants, but the agency did not have the figures immediately available Monday.
The lawsuit also cites studies dating back to the 1980s that indicate there were known concerns about the products, many of which remain ubiquitous in today’s kitchen.
“By the early 1980s, the industry suspected a correlation between PFOS exposure and human health effects. Specifically, manufacturers observed bioaccumulation of PFOS in workers’ bodies and birth defects in children of workers,” according to the lawsuit. “DuPont observed and documented pregnancy outcomes in exposed workers, finding two of seven children born to female plant workers between 1979 and 1981 had birth defects — one an ‘unconfirmed’ eye and tear duct defect, and one a nostril and eye defect.”