Attorney General Schwalb Sues Major Chemical Companies for Contaminating the District with Toxic PFAs Chemicals

Lawsuit Alleges that Companies Hid the Health Effects of “Forever Chemicals” for Decades

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today announced a lawsuit against over 25 chemical companies, including The 3M Company (3M) and DuPont De Nemours, Inc. (DuPont), for manufacturing, marketing, distributing, and selling products containing dangerous PFAS chemicals which now pollute the District’s natural resources.

In the complaint, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that as early as the 1950’s, 3M and DuPont knew the PFAS chemicals they manufactured, commonly used by the U.S. military and at airports to fight fires, posed significant health and environmental risks, but actively hid that information from the public and government regulators.  The complaint alleges that, despite knowing that their products were associated with serious health effects, including increased risk of cancer and birth defects, 3M and DuPont – as well as the other defendants – falsely maintained that their products were safe.

“Today, we’re suing dozens of companies that profited from producing, selling, and distributing dangerous PFAS chemicals that now pollute DC’s waterways and natural resources. Compounding their illegal conduct, these companies for decades misled the public about the health and safety threats they knew their products posed,” said AG Schwalb. “The District and its residents will be forced to deal with the adverse impacts of these ‘forever chemicals’ for years to come. Through this lawsuit, we will hold polluters accountable for the damage their conduct has caused and will continue to cause.” 

PFAS substances – formally known as per-and polyflouroalkyl substances – consist of approximately 3,500 man-made chemicals, not found in nature, that have been manufactured and used since the 1940s. PFAS are a component of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which has been heavily used for decades in and around the District, primarily by the military and at airports, for fighting liquid-based fires like those from jet fuel.

PFAS have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down. Once released into the environment, PFAS cause widespread contamination by traveling into surface water and through the soil, entering the groundwater. These chemicals then contaminate each level of the food chain, building up in plants, fish, wildlife, and eventually humans. Because of the environmental and health hazards posed by PFAS, the District - including DC Water - has incurred, and will continue to incur, significant costs to investigate and remediate the harms posed by PFAS contamination. Through this lawsuit, OAG seeks to ensure that the defendants who produced, sold, and profited from AFFF products – and not the District or DC Water’s ratepayers – bear the full investigation and remedial costs.

Research has linked PFAS exposure to:

  • Reproductive and developmental defects, including pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, and decreased birthweight;
  • Increased cholesterol levels;
  • Liver damage or changes in liver function;
  • Decreases in body vaccine response;
  • Lower infant birth weights; and
  • Higher risks of kidney and testicular cancer. 

The AFFF products that defendants manufactured contain or degrade into PFOA and PFOS. Those products have been used for decades by the military, commercial airports, and other commercial and industrial facilities for fighting and training to fight liquid-based fires at locations in and adjacent to the District.

With this lawsuit, the Office of the Attorney General seeks to recover all costs necessary to:

  • Fully investigate and clean-up PFAS contamination in the District’s natural resources and waterways;
  • Monitor and treat PFAS in the District’s stormwater discharges; and
  • Monitor and treat PFAS in drinking water, wastewater, and biosolids.

Because the lawsuit alleges that the defendants also long covered-up their knowledge of PFAS’s harmful effects, the District also seeks other damages, including punitive damages.

Click here for information on EPA standards regarding PFAS and DC guidance related to drinking water.

The full complaint is available here.

Assistant Attorney General Wesley Rosenfeld and Special Assistant Attorney General Lauren Cullum are representing the District in this matter. The District is also represented by outside counsel, including the firms Edelson, Miner Barnhill & Galland, and Bicky Corman Law.

OAG’s Efforts to Promote Environmental Justice
Fighting for environmental justice and environmental protection is a priority of OAG, particularly in light of the historical disparate impact environmental contamination has had on the District’s Black and brown residents. Among other things, OAG works closely with the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to coordinate and implement Anacostia River cleanup efforts and investigate and assess damages to the District’s natural resources. Since 2014, OAG has recovered over $60 million to promote environmental justice in the District through legal action.


Read more about OAG’s efforts to protect the environment and fight for environmental justice.