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Are ‘Forever Chemicals’ the Next Big Toxic Tort?

February 3, 2020

Plaintiffs lawyer Scott Summy, of Baron & Budd, said “forever chemicals,” discovered in the drinking water of several communities, “are probably the largest environmental hazard in the country right now.”

In southwestern Vermont, residents of the town of Bennington sued in 2016 after state officials determined that a local company, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., discharged the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, through its smokestacks. Over decades, the chemicals seeped into the groundwater, contaminating the drinking water supply for more than 2,000 property owners.

Last month, in a key ruling, a federal judge refused to toss the claims on summary judgment, and set the case for a July 6 trial.

The case is one of several percolating through the courts involving so-called “forever chemicals,” which do not biodegrade in the ground or in the human body. Lawyers representing area residents began filing class actions about five years ago, but judges recently have issued rulings on dismissal and class certification. In the past year, attorneys general in several states, water utilities and individuals exposed to the chemical have brought additional lawsuits.

“We didn’t plead medical monitoring. We pled personal injury-type claims to proceed forward on the type of care needed: blood tests, and things of that sort,” said Ted Leopold, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Palm Beach, Florida. Whether the judge grants the new dismissal motion “is up in the air,” he said.

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