Attorney General Bonta Sues Manufacturers of Toxic Forever Chemicals

Thursday, November 10, 2022
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PFAS are estimated to be detectable in the bloodstream of 98% of Californians 

SAN FRANCISCO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, for endangering public health, causing irreparable harm to the state's natural resources, and engaging in a widespread campaign to deceive the public. In the lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta alleges that these manufacturers, including 3M and DuPont, knew or should have known that PFAS are toxic and harmful to human health and the environment, yet continued to produce them for mass use and concealed their harms from the public. As a result, these toxic "forever chemicals" are pervasive across California’s bays, lakes, streams, and rivers; in its fish, wildlife, and soil; and in the bloodstream of 98% of Californians.

“PFAS are as ubiquitous in California as they are harmful,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As a result of a decades-long campaign of deception, PFAS are in our waters, our clothing, our houses, and even our bodies. The damage caused by 3M, DuPont, and other manufacturers of PFAS is nothing short of staggering, and without drastic action, California will be dealing with the harms of these toxic chemicals for generations. Today’s lawsuit is the result of a years-long investigation that found that the manufacturers of PFAS knowingly violated state consumer protection and environmental laws. We won't let them off the hook for the pernicious damage done to our state.”

PFAS are a class of thousands of toxic chemicals. This lawsuit concerns seven common PFAS that have been detected in drinking water supplies, surface waters, and groundwater in California: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS); perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS); perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS); perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA); perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA); and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).

PFAS are widely used in consumer products including food packaging, cookware, clothing, carpets, shoes, fabrics, polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in firefighting foams designed to quickly smother liquid fuel fires. These so-called "forever chemicals" are stable in the environment, resistant to degradation, persistent in soil, and known to leach into groundwater. PFOS, a PFAS chemical exclusively made by 3M beginning in the 1940s, was a component in firefighting foams used by the military, airports, refineries, and fire departments for decades before it was phased out in the early 2000s.

PFAS have been found in the blood of most Californians. Human exposure to PFAS can occur from contaminated air, water, soil, or food, and consumer products. Persons that work or live at or near military bases, airports, industrial facilities, and local fire departments, where firefighting foam was used, are particularly likely to have been exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS contaminants. PFAS can cause adverse health impacts including developmental defects, liver, kidney, testicular, breast, pancreas, and prostate cancer, adverse pregnancy outcomes, infertility, reduced bone density in children, and impacts on the thyroid and immune system. Exposure to PFOA and PFOS was also found to limit the effectiveness of common vaccines across multiple studies. 

For decades, PFAS manufacturers were aware of these chemicals’ toxicity, persistence, and prevalence in humans, but chose to deliberately mislead the government and the public. As early as the 1950s, 3M and DuPont began testing the physiological and toxicological properties of PFAS. Based on these internal studies, the manufacturers knew that PFAS were toxic to humans and the environment. By the 1960s, the manufacturers had confirmed that PFAS were leaching into groundwater and contaminating the environment, and by the 1970s, they had confirmed that PFAS bioaccumulate in humans. 

Yet even after 3M ceased manufacturing PFOS in response to pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it worked to control and distort the science on PFAS and to minimize their dangers to the environment and human health. As recently as November 2018, 3M publicly stated that “the vast body of scientific evidence does not show that PFOS or PFOA cause adverse health effects in humans at current exposure levels, or even at the historically higher levels found in blood.”  Similarly, notwithstanding a half-century of internal knowledge of PFOA’s health and environmental risks, DuPont publicly stated in 2003 that “[w]e are confident that there are no health effects associated with [PFOA] exposure,” and that “[PFOA] is not a human health issue.”

Today PFAS are pervasive in California. Data from the State Water Resources Control Board shows that PFAS are in drinking, ground, and surface waters, with especially high levels near airports, refineries, chrome plating facilities, military facilities, and landfills. PFAS have been detected in at least 146 public water systems serving 16 million Californians. These chemicals are also present in aquifers that provide millions of Californians with water through unregulated domestic wells.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta alleges that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the dangers of PFAS when they made and/or sold products containing them and that the manufacturers’ failed to warn about the dangers of PFAS and in many cases concealed them. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, penalties, restitution, and abatement. Requested relief includes statewide treatment and destruction of PFAS, including, but not limited to, the treatment of drinking water by regulated water systems; water drawn from private wells and unregulated systems used for drinking water and irrigation; and water from other wastewater treatment plants and systems. The lawsuit also seeks payment of funds necessary to mitigate the impacts to human health and the environment through environmental testing, medical monitoring, public noticing, replacement water (for period between testing and installation of treatment), and safe disposal and destruction.

A copy of the complaint is available here

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