$4 Billion PFAS Settlement: Why Downstream Commerce Companies Should Be Wary

On January 22, 2021, a $4 billion PFAS settlement was reached between DuPont de Nemours Inc., Chemours Co., and Corteva, Inc. for environmental liabilities stemming from PFAS pollution. In addition, an $83 million settlement was reached by the same companies with numerous plaintiffs in an Ohio Multi District Litigation (MDL) established to litigate PFAS personal injury claims. At first glance, the numbers seem staggering; however, a closer look reveals that the settlements may in fact be more important as a harbinger of potential litigation against companies completely unrelated to PFAS manufacturing.
What Are PFAS and Why Are They a Concern? Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) are a class of over 7,000 manmade compounds. Chemists at 3M and Dupont developed the initial PFAS chemicals by accident in the 1930s when researching carbon-based chemical reactions. During one such experiment, an unusual coating remained in the testing chamber, which upon further testing was completely resistant to any methods designed to break apart the atoms within the chemical. The material also had the incredible ability to repel oil and water. Dupont later called this substance PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), the first PFAS ever invented. After World War II, Dupont commercialized PFOA into the revolutionary product that the company branded “Teflon.”