They’re everywhere — in our water, farms, food, clothing, cosmetics, and countless everyday products. The per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as “forever chemicals,” are a group of nearly indestructible compounds used in manufacturing that have infiltrated our soil, water and air, presenting a host of health risks for everyone exposed to them.
In Maryland, Delaware and around the Chesapeake Bay watershed, our farms and rural communities are finding growing evidence of PFAS contamination in waterways and soil. The combination of a years-long study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Delaware, new advisories by Maryland’s Department of the Environment, growing evidence from the EPA and a developing understanding of the dangers of PFAS have gotten public and government attention. Now the companies responsible for that contamination need to be identified and their pollution stopped.
In October 2023, the EPA announced new research funding to better understand the effects of PFAS on our agricultural systems. In addition to this new EPA funding, the Delaware attorney general is taking direct action. In October 2023, that state filed a lawsuit against chemical companies including 3M for causing contamination of Delaware’s natural resources and jeopardizing residents’ health. Both steps are essential in better understanding PFAS contamination of our agricultural systems and the trickledown effect on our environment, food and health.
Nationally, PFAS contamination has also been a top concern of both environmental and health officials. In March 2023, the Biden administration announced the first-ever national drinking water standard and invested $9 billion over five years, as part of the infrastructure bill, to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS and other contamination reduce levels in drinking water. Here in Maryland and Delaware, we’re in a fragile ecosystem that connects East Coast waterways while chemical and manufacturing businesses operate throughout the area. Delaware is home to large manufacturers such as Dupont, Gore and Chemours, which have been identified as using PFAS in their manufacturing processes and now, often through litigation, are being required to change their practices.
Studies have linked the presence of PFAS to increased risk of complications to immune response, fertility and child development. As an attorney who works on environmental protection cases, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating impact these chemicals have on both human health, our agricultural system and the environment.
With the ongoing and growing discoveries of detrimental health and environmental effects, one would hope that companies would take action to clean up their manufacturing processes. Yet we continue to discover companies polluting with these dangerous chemicals and harming residents and the environment.
As the research has strengthened the proof of PFAS dangers, manufacturing and chemical companies such as Chemours and Dupont — both headquartered in Wilmington — and their trade organization, the American Chemistry Council, have adamantly opposed PFAS regulations. PFAS has made manufacturing processes cheap and easy, so pivoting to other compounds will come at a cost, one that these companies often don’t want to pay.
Citizens affected by PFAS pollution now better understand the extent of the problem, while also facing the reality that timely and tangible change to solve it is unlikely to come from the companies responsible. Instead, community members are forced to go to the courts for a remedy. Lawsuits filed by citizens against polluting companies can help fill the gap left when industry won’t fix the problem or legislation is still in progress. These cases help hold companies accountable for the harm they have caused, but they also help shine a light on the need for increased safety regulations.
W.L. Gore, the manufacturer of Gore-Tex, a waterproof fabric, is a prime example of a company that now faces litigation due to their PFAS-polluting manufacturing. Gore is headquartered in Delaware and has manufacturing plants across the country. My firm represents members of the community surrounding its Elkton, Maryland, facility who are suing Gore for polluting the water. The residents allege that just like other chemical companies, Gore had knowledge of the dangers of PFAS chemicals and still dumped large quantities of PFAS-laden wastewater into groundwater that supplies drinking water into wells and into the public sewage system.
Litigation against these companies seeks to provide justice for the affected communities, but it also sends a message that corporations cannot prioritize profit over the wellbeing of people and the environment. It also plays an essential role as the EPA and Congress continue to battle to regulate these dangerous chemicals. In recent years, we have seen progress in the legal fight against PFAS, with some cases resulting in significant settlements and regulatory changes.
The fight against PFAS is not just a legal battle. It is a moral imperative to protect our communities, our families and our environment. This fight is not just for attorneys or victims of PFAS contamination — it is a collective responsibility that demands action from governments, industries and individuals alike. The legal battles we fight today will determine the health and well-being of future generations and the preservation of our planet. It’s a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Chase Brockstedt is the lead partner of Baird Mandalas Brockstedt & Federico’s injury litigation department. He represents individuals in environmental pollution cases across the Mid-Atlantic region.