In 2019, the movie Dark Waters brought public awareness to the issue of “forever chemicals.” The plot centers around lawyer Robert Bilott’s real-life battle with industry giant DuPont over the release of toxic chemicals into the West Virginia water supply.

Similar dramas are currently unfolding across America as researchers and journalists uncover the lasting impact of “forever chemicals.” The human body cannot break down these per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, leaving them to accumulate within. Medical researchers are only now discovering the damage forever chemicals cause to the body, after decades of companies dumping PFAS into the air and water.

The new mass tort

Robert Billott filed a federal suit against DuPont in 1999. He nearly lost, were it not for a timely court order revealing decades of confidential research into the harmful effects of forever chemicals. Since then, more communities have turned their attention to the waste produced by local factories and processing plants. In 2016, residents of a town in Vermont sued a plastics company after discovering the chemical released through its smokestacks had seeped into the groundwater over decades. In mid-May of 2020, Tampa Bay Water filed suit against DuPont for contaminating the water supply of 2.5 million people.

These discoveries prompt action on behalf of local governments to protect their constituents. In New York, state legislators planned new regulations of PFAS levels but delayed their implementation to focus on the current pandemic. Just next door, New Jersey became the third state in the nation to officially regulate levels of PFAS, demanding public water supplies reach safe levels by 2021.

A growing concern

These laws and legal cases inspire more research and study, as the long-term effects of PFAS accumulation remain unclear. In April, the Environmental Working Group concluded that 678 military installations in the U.S. have confirmed or suspected PFAS contamination. Another study by the Endocrine Society determined that women with higher levels of PFAS in their system reach menopause two years earlier than average. A 2019 study in Kentucky revealed that half of all public drinking water systems show PFAS contamination.

Legal considerations

Law professionals anticipate even more mass tort lawsuits in the coming years, as more studies on groundwater reach their conclusions. People affected by these chemicals can reach out to a local attorney familiar with mass torts to inquire further.