‘We want the wrongdoer to pay for it’: S.C. attorney general sues over toxic ‘forever chemicals’

Published: Aug. 9, 2023 at 7:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s top prosecutor is calling for the companies he claims are responsible for polluting the state’s drinking water and natural resources with toxic chemicals to be held accountable.

South Carolina is now joining dozens of other states in suing major manufacturers, alleging they knowingly harmed the state’s environment and its people.

“What if you were eating something and the calories never went away?” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “Eating 40, 50, 60, 100, 1,000 hamburgers over a 10-year period, imagine all those calories if they never went away.”

That’s the analogy Wilson makes to describe Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

The durability of these manmade substances makes them useful in a wide variety of consumer products like food packaging and non-stick cookware, along with textile, electronics, and automotive manufacturing.

But that is also what makes them so harmful.

“This chemical doesn’t break down,” Wilson said. “It stays in you. It stays in the system. It stays in our environment.”

The lawsuit Wilson filed in Richland County this week alleges companies including 3M and Dupont knowingly contaminated state waterways for decades with these toxic forever chemicals.

“That’s public knowledge, that they knew what they were doing was harmful, and they said nothing, and that’s what makes it egregious,” Wilson said.

Conservation Voters of South Carolina, which advocates for environmental protections in the Palmetto State, agrees.

“I think these lawsuits are vital, and I’m excited to see that South Carolina is joining the list of other states that have brought suit against these companies,” CVSC Land, Water, Ocean Project Manager Zach Bjur said.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, exposure to certain PFAS has been associated with increased rates of cancers, birth defects, and other adverse health impacts.

“It’s really pretty atrocious that they were continuing to push these products, knowing that it could impact health,” Bjur said.

Wilson said the state is seeking damages for the harm it claims has already been caused to South Carolina’s environment and its people and to remove the chemicals and prevent future harm.

“We want the wrongdoer to pay for it, not the taxpayer,” he said.

3-M, DuPont, and other companies named in earlier lawsuits across the country have already agreed to settle for billions of dollars.

But those are considered to likely be just the first round of legal action, and those companies have not admitted to any liability in those settlements.

Wilson said it is impossible to know how long it will take to reach a settlement or another outcome but added he is prepared to fight as long as needed.

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