The Attorney General’s Office of Delaware has filed a lawsuit against multiple companies, alleging that they are responsible for contaminating the state’s natural resources with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances are traceable to the use and disposal of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a specialized firefighting foam product commonly used at airports and military bases. The legal action follows a two-year investigation that included environmental sampling, forensic analysis, and a review of corporate records.
The lawsuit alleges that 3M Company and other AFFF manufacturers have caused damage to Delaware’s environment and put the health of its residents at risk by introducing PFAS into rivers, streams, groundwater, soils, and wildlife. The companies designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed, supplied, and/or sold PFAS-based AFFF products and/or AFFF components that contain or break down into toxic components. When used as intended, these products result in significant environmental contamination and pollution with PFAS. The lawsuit seeks damages, including costs necessary to restore impacted natural resources and funding for state-run public health programs.
The legal action was filed in the Superior Court of Delaware and aims to secure monetary damages, including natural resource damages and costs to test, monitor, assess, and respond to contamination. The natural resources affected include groundwater and other resources near the New Castle County Airport in New Castle County and the Dover Air Force Base in Kent County, where AFFF products have been used and disposed of for an extended period. Impacts to state property, private drinking water wells, water supplies, and public natural resources have been identified as a result of these natural resource impairments.
The complaint outlines a pattern of pollution and deception that, in some cases, spanned decades the filing alleges. The case also alleges that corporate records from 3M indicate that the company had a sophisticated understanding of the health and environmental hazards posed by PFAS as early as the 1960s. Despite this knowledge, the company concealed this information and developed thousands of industrial applications for the chemicals, generating billions of dollars in revenue the complaint continues. The complaint also states that safer alternatives to AFFF that did not contain or break down into toxic PFAS were available when the defendants designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed, supplied, and/or sold the products.
PFAS compounds are toxic and do not occur naturally. They resist natural degradation processes due to the extraordinary strength of the carbon-fluorine bond that defines these compounds, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” PFAS compounds accumulate in living tissue, leading to chronic exposures. Several have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, ulcerative colitis, and developmental and systemic disorders. Some Delaware water utilities have installed specialized filtration technologies to remove PFAS from drinking water according to the complaint.
Delaware residents who receive their drinking water from private wells are advised to annually check their water. A simple water test is available from the State of Delaware for $4, with more comprehensive tests available from private companies. Those who receive their water from a community water system should still monitor their public water systems through the Delaware Drinking Water Watch.