New Movie May Be Harbinger of PFAS Litigation

New Movie May be Harbinger Of PFAS Litigation

Two decades ago, the public was captivated by Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Erin Brockovich, a film about a struggling single mother who goes after big energy for polluting groundwater with hexavalent chromium. When the dust settled, the result was a class-action lawsuit settlement for more than $300 million.

gloved hands taking water sample outside
gloved hands taking water sample outside

Late last year, Dark Waters hit the big screen to tell the story of another dramatic, drawn out legal battle over water pollution. In the movie, Mark Ruffalo plays a lawyer who goes after a global chemical company for releasing PFAS pollution in West Virginia. That case eventually netted a $670 million settlement to address personal injury claims from more than 3,500 people who suffered medical issues as a result.

While lawsuits over the contaminant at the center of Erin Brockovich continue to arise occasionally since that case, Dark Waters may foreshadow a massive amount of legal action over the next few years. That’s because a flood of new information is coming to light about PFAS, also referred to as “forever chemicals.”

A study released in late January by an environmental watchdog group found heightened levels of the potentially toxic chemicals in tap water supplies serving dozens of major American cities.

The report, published by the Environmental Working Group, found that 20 cities and regions nationwide – including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami and Louisville, Kentucky – contained PFAS levels of at least 10 parts per trillion. Forty-three areas, including New York City, Nashville, Las Vegas and Sacramento, had detectable PFAS at least 1 part per trillion.

The U.S. EPA is still trying to determine how to regulate the contaminant while multiple states think the agency is moving too slow and is looking to take matters into their own hands.

For more than 16.5 million water-utility customers in 33 different states, contamination caused by PFAS is a source-water issue that will not go away for a long time. What are the practical options for community water systems currently confronting this challenge? Here is an overview of several treatments and their relative successes against a wide variety of PFAS compounds.

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