Written by 06:07 World

Damages From PFAS Lawsuits Could Surpass Asbestos, Industry Lawyers Warn

The defense lawyer minced no words as he addressed a room full of plastic-industry executives. Prepare for a wave of lawsuits​ with​ potentially “astronomical” costs​. Speaking at a conference earlier this year, the lawyer, Brian Gross, said the coming litigation could “dwarf anything related to asbestos,” one of the most sprawling corporate-liability battles in United States history.

Mr. Gross was referring to PFAS, the “forever chemicals” that have emerged as one of the major pollution issues of our time. Used for decades in countless everyday objects — cosmetics, takeout containers, frying pans — PFAS have been linked to serious health risks including cancer. Last month the federal government said several types of PFAS must be removed from the drinking water of hundreds of millions of Americans.

“Do what you can, while you can, before you get sued,” Mr. Gross said at the February session, according to a recording of the event made by a participant and examined by The New York Times. “Review any marketing materials or other communications that you’ve had with your customers, with your suppliers, see whether there’s anything in those documents that’s problematic to your defense,” he said. “Weed out people and find the right witness to represent your company.”

A spokesman for Mr. Gross’s employer, MG+M The Law Firm, which defends companies in high-stakes litigation, didn’t respond to questions about Mr. Gross’s remarks and said he was unavailable to discuss them.

A wide swath of the chemicals, plastics and related industries are gearing up to fight a surge in litigation related to PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of nearly 15,000 versatile synthetic chemicals linked to serious health problems.

PFAS chemicals have been detected almost everywhere scientists have looked: in drinking water, in rain falling over the Great Lakes, even in Antarctic snow. They are thought to be present in the blood of nearly every American. Researchers have linked exposure to PFAS to testicular and kidney cancers, developmental delays in children, decreased fertility, liver damage and thyroid disease. The man-made chemicals are so long-lasting that scientists haven’t been able to reliably identify how long it might take for them to break down.

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Last modified: 29 May 2024
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