An Ohio federal judge has certified a class of plaintiffs who claim the nation’s top chemical companies knowingly put their health at risk for decades by selling and distributing toxic substances known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals.”
U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. certified a class represented by Ohio firefighter Kevin D. Hardwick, who filed the suit against chemical giants 3M Co., E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., the Chemours Co. and others over their creation and distribution of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals commonly found in nonstick coatings and flame retardants. The class includes any person subject to Ohio laws with a blood concentration of 0.5 parts per trillion of any PFAS — stopping short of Hardwick’s request the court certify a nationwide class.
Judge Sargus said the plaintiffs satisfied the three prongs necessary to establish Article III standing, including an alleged injury in fact from increased risk of disease from the chemical exposures, one that was traceable to the defendants who invented those chemicals and the likelihood of redressability, which in this case is a request for medical monitoring.
Judge Sargus said certifying a class of those subject to Ohio laws rather than a nationwide class is the best course of action since other states may not view increased risk of certain diseases as redressable harms. He said he’d allow briefing for subclasses in different states in the future.
Hardwick’s case is one of a number of lawsuits targeting chemical companies that manufacture PFAS, which were developed in the 1930s and 1940s and put into large-scale manufacture and use by the early 1950s. In general, the plaintiffs in the suit allege the chemical companies knowingly distributed the substances for decades despite concerns that they may be associated with a variety of health risks, including increased cancer incidence, hormone changes and thyroid and liver impacts.
The chemicals are known to stay in human bodies and the environment for years, giving them the common name “forever chemicals.”
According to his 2019 complaint, Hardwick has worked as a firefighter for more than 40 years and was exposed to PFAS contained in firefighting foams and contaminated equipment and gear. He argues he is injured by the fact that his blood contains PFAS and perfluorooctanoic acid, which are putting him at heightened risk of disease.