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Firefighters File Multiple Lawsuits Over PFAS in Gear, Foam (1)

Feb. 16, 2022, 2:51 PMUpdated: Feb. 16, 2022, 10:20 PM

A group of 19 firefighters in Massachusetts and New York allege in two separate lawsuits that 3M and 23 other companies knowingly made and sold products containing “forever chemicals” that placed the plaintiffs’ health at risk.

The case is the latest in a growing number of lawsuits from firefighters’ attorneys citing concerns that the chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found in their protective jackets, pants, and other gear and specialized firefighting foam increase their risk of cancer, liver damage, and a host of other illnesses.

The firefighters learned of their exposure from recent blood tests in December 2021 documenting levels of the chemicals in their blood that “are significantly elevated” compared to most Americans, the petition said.

Defendants knew or should have reasonably known that the chemicals and the products containing them were hazardous to human health, yet they failed to provide information or warnings to firefighters, according to the lawsuits filed by Jonathan K. Levine, co-founding partner of Pritzker Levine LLP, and colleagues.

Pritzker Levine also filed two other lawsuits in California state courts with similar allegations that didn’t have docket numbers available as of press time.

3M Response

3M said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law that it stands by the safety of its products. The company no longer manufactures or sells the Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, mentioned in the lawsuit.

“3M is proud of the many ways we apply science to create products that our customers rely on,” it said in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously defend our record of responsible use of PFAS and environmental stewardship in ongoing litigation, including these cases.”

The lawsuit likely will be folded into the hundreds of other multidistrict firefighting foam cases bundled together in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, said Richard R. Seal, a Pritzker Levine attorney who previously served as a Battalion Chief firefighter in San Jose, California.

While most of the cases in the multidistrict litigation in South Carolina focus on the effects of firefighting foam, only a small subset focus also on protective equipment. Attorney Elizabeth C. Pritzker, the other co-founding partner of Pritzker Levine LLP, said she isn’t aware of any other firms pursuing claims related to firefighter’s protective equipment, known as turnout gear.

Cases involving water utilities are proceeding first in the MDL with a bellwether trial scheduled to begin in January 2023. Further action on claims related to gear likely won’t come to the forefront until early 2023, according to Pritzker.

“Each group of firefighters that we represent are doing this, obviously in part for compensation, but I think the driving force for all of them is to effectuate change,” said Pritzker. “They don’t want firefighters coming up behind them to be facing the same health risks that they faced.”

Causes of Action:

Relief: Damages including future health care costs and economic loss.

Response: “3M is proud of the many ways we apply science to create products that our customers rely on,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously defend our record of responsible use of PFAS and environmental stewardship in ongoing litigation, including these cases.”

Attorneys: Pritzker Levine LLP and Sullivan & Galleshaw LLP are representing the plaintiffs in the New York case. Bernheim Kelley Battista & Bliss LLC is representing the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case along with Pritzker Levine LLP whose attorneys are to be admitted pro hac vice.

The cases are Marchetti v. 3M Company, D. Mass., No. 1:22-cv-10251, complaint filed 2/15/22 and Hayes v. 3M Company, E.D.N.Y., No. 1:22-cv-00845, complaint filed 2/15/22.

(Updated with additional information, including comments from 3M and attorney Elizabeth Pritzker.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergindustry.com; Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com