Type: Case Studies
Date: 08/31/2023

Taft is a Global Leader in PFAS Forever Chemicals Litigation and Advisory Work

Taft attorneys have been at the forefront of issues relating to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for more than two decades. Throughout that time, Taft has led efforts to raise awareness within the legal community, scientific community, regulators, policymakers, and the public of the serious threat posed to human health and the environment from exposure to this class of potentially thousands of completely man-made chemicals. As a result, people all over the world are beginning to understand the unique threat that these “forever chemicals” present because they tend not to break down, and over time, accumulate in living things and in environmental media. They are now known to be linked with an increasing array of serious adverse impacts on both human health and the environment, and laws and regulations are now changing here in the United States – and worldwide – to address the PFAS “forever chemicals” threats revealed by Taft’s work.

  • How It Started
    • Our story started in 1998 when Wilbur Tennant reached out to Taft partner Rob Bilott seeking help in understanding what was making his cattle sick. Mr. Tennant was raising the animals on his family’s property located near Parkersburg, West Virginia, next to a landfill owned and operated by DuPont. DuPont was sending waste from its nearby chemical manufacturing plant to the landfill and Mr. Tennant was concerned that there was something in the white foam leaking out of the landfill into the creek that his cows drank from that was making his animals sick.

      In 1999, Bilott teamed up with West Virginia lawyer, Larry Winter of Winter Johnson & Hill, and filed a lawsuit against DuPont on behalf of the Tennant family, known as the “Tennant v. DuPont” case. Through years of hard-fought discovery and court battles in that case, Bilott first discovered and was able to begin revealing to the rest of the world that these PFAS chemicals existed, and that the chemicals were not only contaminating the water Mr. Tennant’s cows were drinking, but were likely contaminating the drinking water and blood of the Tennant family, their surrounding community throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley, and potentially the entire world. Moreover, discovery in the case revealed that both DuPont and its main PFAS supplier, 3M, were well aware of extensive data indicating that the PFAS presented serious risks to human health and the environment but had covered up and withheld that information for decades from regulators, lawmakers, scientists, and the public. Ever since first seeing this alarming information, Bilott and his legal team have been working to obtain justice for those who have been injured by these man-made toxins.

  • The Long Road to Justice
    • Upon learning the nature and extent of the PFAS risk data that existed but had been kept secret, Bilott initiated efforts to begin providing the non-confidential portions to government officials and the public. On March 6, 2001, Bilott sent his first letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and other federal and state officials to alert them to the existence of PFAS, its likely presence in U.S. drinking water, the extent of information that had been withheld, and the need for governmental action to address the contamination problem.

      Shortly thereafter, when residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley first found out that their drinking water was contaminated, Bilott and Larry Winter joined forces with the West Virginia law firm of Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler to file what became the world’s first class action for PFAS contamination on behalf of a PFAS-impacted community, known as the “Leach v. DuPont” case. In early 2002, Bilott and his legal team were appointed by the court to serve as class counsel for the plaintiffs, which eventually grew to encompass approximately 70,000 people whose public and/or private drinking water supplies had been contaminated with PFAS in West Virginia and Ohio. In 2004, Bilott and his team negotiated a unique class settlement that provided over $300 million in benefits to class members, including the design, installation, and operation of new water filtration and treatment systems for both public and private drinking water supplies, class member blood and health data collection, class member health studies, and a process for class member medical monitoring.

      After the class settlement in the Leach case, Bilott and Taft led new litigation against DuPont in New Jersey arising from PFAS contamination of water supplies that resulted in an additional class settlement in 2011, providing clean water to residents. Bilott and Taft also led what became the first PFAS litigation in the country against 3M (initiated through a court case in Minnesota filed in 2005), during which dozens of 3M witnesses and experts were deposed and thousands of documents from within 3M’s internal files were collected and reviewed for the first time. Many of these documents were later used by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office when it filed a case against 3M in 2009 in what became the first case in the country for a state seeking natural resource damages for PFAS contamination. Minnesota eventually settled that case for $850 million after Bilott provided additional documentation to the State confirming what 3M had revealed to DuPont about the ability of certain PFAS to cause cancer.

      As part of the class settlement process in the earlier Leach v. DuPont case, PFAS blood samples and health data were collected from approximately 69,000 of the class members and turned over to a panel of independent scientists charged with confirming the extent to which exposure to one particular PFAS chemical, known as PFOA (also called “C8” because of its man-made chemical structure of fluorine connected to eight carbons), is linked to serious human disease. By the end of 2012, this independent “C8 Science Panel” (which Bilott and his legal team jointly selected with DuPont) had confirmed that there are “probable links” between exposure of class members to PFOA and six serious human diseases, including two types of cancer.

      Once the “probable links” with disease were confirmed, Bilott and his legal team helped jointly select with DuPont a new panel of independent medical doctors, charged under the terms of the original 2004 Leach v. DuPont class settlement with determining what type of medical monitoring would be appropriate for those linked diseases. In 2013, this “C8 Medical Panel” released what became the world’s first comprehensive, class-wide medical monitoring protocol for those exposed to PFOA in their drinking water. Shortly thereafter, thousands of exposed individuals signed up and began receiving the free diagnostic tests and PFOA blood sampling. Under the terms of the original Leach class settlement, DuPont is required to pay the costs of all such testing, up to $235 million.

      In addition, once the “probable links” between PFOA and disease had been confirmed, DuPont became contractually obligated under the Leach v. DuPont class settlement terms to pay for the operation and maintenance of the class’ PFOA water filtration systems, forever, and class members who had been diagnosed with one or more of the linked diseases were allowed to pursue claims against DuPont for their individual damages. By 2013, thousands of such claims were being filed by Leach case class members in West Virginia and Ohio, leading to the creation of a multi-district litigation proceeding in federal court in Ohio, known as the “DuPont C8 Personal Injury MDL” (C8 MDL). At this point, Bilott expanded his legal team to include lawyers with extensive mass tort and personal injury trial experience, including lawyers with the law firms of Douglas & London, Levin Papantonio, and Kennedy & Madonna, and Bilott was appointed co-lead counsel for the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee in the C8 MDL, along with Mike London of Douglas & London.

      After four years of intense litigation, including three trials by Bilott’s team that resulted in verdicts in favor of each individual plaintiff of $1.8 million, $5.6 million, and $12.8 million (including punitive damages in the last two trials), a global resolution was reached of the approximately 3,500 then-pending cases in the C8 MDL for $670.7 million. A few years later, several dozen additional cases were settled in the C8 MDL for another $83 million, resulting in total recoveries to date against DuPont in the C8 MDL for Bilott’s class members in excess of $753 million.

  • Opening the World’s Eyes to PFAS Contamination
  • Leading Nationwide PFAS Litigation
    • One product in particular that was identified as a major source of PFAS exposure over the last several decades is a type of firefighting foam historically used to combat petroleum-based fires, known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). As the public finally became aware of this source of PFAS and governmental entities began testing for AFFF, an increasing number of locations were identified across the U.S. (and worldwide) where PFAS from AFFF use was suspected of being the source of the contamination, particularly in drinking water supplies. As a result, those faced with the costs of responding to this PFAS contamination have initiated litigation to make sure that the proper parties are held responsible for the resulting damage. In response, Bilott again expanded his legal team to begin working with additional law firms with unique experience representing states (such as Kelly Drye & Warren) and law firms having unique experience representing local governmental entities and utilities, including local water providers (such as SL Environmental). Bilott and members of his expanded legal team are now representing over 200 of these different state and local entities, including water providers, airports, and wastewater/sewer systems, located all across the United States with respect to such claims. Many of these cases have been pulled into a new multi-district litigation proceeding in federal court in South Carolina, known as the “AFFF MDL.”

      Since 2018, Rob Bilott has been serving as national Advisory Counsel to the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC) in the AFFF MDL, and as co-chair of the Science Committee, with Bilott’s co-counsel, Mike London of Douglas & London, serving as co-lead counsel for the entire AFFF MDL. Other members of Bilott’s legal team serve in leadership positions in numerous other AFF MDL committees for the PEC, and as lead trial counsel in the AFFF MDL bellwether process. In 2021, Bilott and Taft served as co-class counsel for plaintiffs in connection with the first case to be settled within the context of the AFFF MDL, where an AFFF manufacturer, Tyco, agreed to pay $15 million to resolve both property damage and medical monitoring claims of individuals impacted by PFAS contamination of private drinking water wells originating from a fire training facility in Wisconsin. In 2023 and 2024, four additional class settlements, collectively valued at up to more than $14 billion, were reached in the context of the AFFF MDL with 3M, Tyco, BASF, and the DuPont-related companies for water provider claims across the U.S.

      In addition to helping lead nationwide efforts to address PFAS contamination of drinking water, natural resources, and property from AFFF, Bilott also has worked for years to find ways to help address potential impacts to individuals all across the country who have been exposed to the ever increasing number of PFAS chemicals being found in human blood, including firefighters. In 2018, Bilott and his legal team filed a precedent-setting new case seeking nationwide medical monitoring, studies, and testing for individuals with PFOA and at least one other PFAS in their blood. In 2022, the court overseeing the case (styled Hardwick v. 3M) issued an order allowing the case to proceed as a class action for millions of people within the U.S. seeking such relief, appointing Bilott and members of his legal team class counsel, and approved the lead plaintiff – an Ohio firefighter – to serve as the class representative.

      Hoping to help further raise awareness of the threat PFAS present to firefighters, Bilott also appears in a documentary produced by Mark Ruffalo, entitled, “Burned: Protecting the Protectors,” which highlights the use of PFAS in both AFFF and in coatings that historically were used in firefighter turnout gear. To date, the documentary has been shown at hundreds of fire stations and other venues across the country (and internationally), helping spread awareness worldwide of the need to transition away from certain PFAS materials used in the fire service.

  • Helping Clients Navigate Evolving PFAS Laws and Regulations
    • As information regarding the true nature and extent of the PFAS contamination problem has emerged, regulators and lawmakers across the planet have responded with an ever-increasing number of new proposed rules, laws, and policies or modifications to existing legal standards. This includes new drinking water standards and guidelines at the state level and changes in both the federal and international arenas. For example, in 2024, the U.S. EPA announced federally enforceable maximum contaminant levels for certain toxic PFAS in drinking water and designated several of these same PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), raising new potential “Superfund” liabilities with respect to those PFAS. Based on their decades of work on these PFAS issues dating back to 1998, Taft attorneys have developed unparalleled experience and insight on these substances and have gained a broad and unique understanding of the multifaceted impacts this family of “forever chemicals” can have on the regulated community. Taft’s deep bench of experienced PFAS practitioners use this knowledge and expertise on a daily basis to advise clients on a wide array of issues across industrial sectors. These matters range from advising businesses regarding PFAS in packaging and products, representing and advising landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, airports, governmental entities, and drinking water utilities in civil and regulatory actions, investigating and remediating PFAS impacts (including at closed CERCLA and RCRA sites), addressing PFAS liability considerations in business transactions, and prosecuting PFAS claims. Taft attorneys regularly contribute to the PFAS Insights blog, providing insight and analysis on important PFAS news and developments.

  • Taft PFAS Timeline
    • 1998 – Wilbur Tennant meets Rob Bilott.

      1999Tennant v. DuPont case is filed.

      2001Tennant v. DuPont case is settled, and a new class action lawsuit is filed in Leach v. DuPont case for approximately 70,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio with PFOA (C8) in their water, and Bilott begins outreach to governmental entities to warn of PFAS dangers.

      2004Leach v. DuPont class action settled (DuPont to pay class benefits valued at over $300 million, including water filtration systems, class member blood and health data collection, class member health studies, and process for class member medical monitoring).

      2005-2006 – PFAS litigation initiated against 3M in Minnesota and against DuPont in New Jersey for residents with PFAS in drinking water, and blood and health data collected from approximately 69,000 class members under Leach v. DuPont class settlement.

      2011 – New class settlement valued at over $8 million announced in New Jersey PFAS case to provide drinking water filtration benefits to class members.

      2012 – C8 Science Panel created under Leach v. DuPont class settlement confirms “probable links” between PFOA and six serious human diseases, including two types of cancer.

      2013 – C8 Medial Panel created under Leach v. DuPont class settlement releases the first community-wide PFAS medical monitoring program for thousands of people, and C8 MDL was created to handle claims of thousands of Leach class members with diseases linked to PFOA.

      2015 – First C8 MDL trial results in a jury verdict that DuPont caused cancer in Leach class member who drank PFOA.

      2016New York Times Magazine article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” published.

      2017 – Bilott receives the International Right Livelihood Award (also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) for his decades of work on PFAS “forever chemicals,” and settlement announced in C8 MDL to resolve approximately 3,500 then-pending linked disease cases of Leach class members in exchange for DuPont’s payment of $670.7 million.

      2018 – Documentary, “The Devil We Know,” premieres at Sundance Film Festival, Minnesota settles nation’s first PFAS natural resource damage case against 3M for $850 million, AFFF MDL is formed, and Bilott files new case seeking nationwide PFAS medical monitoring, studies, and testing in Hardwick v. 3M.

      2019 – Bilott’s book, “Exposure,” is published, and the Hollywood film, “Dark Waters” is released.

      2021 – An additional settlement of $83 million is announced in the C8 MDL to resolve dozens of additional Leach class member linked disease claims, and a $15 million class settlement is announced in the AFFF MDL with Tyco for damages related to PFAS in certain private wells in Wisconsin.

      2022 – Court issues order allowing Hardwick v. 3M case to proceed as a class action seeking medical monitoring, studies, and testing on behalf of millions of class members and 3M commits to phase out all PFAS manufacture by 2025.

      2023 – Two nationwide class settlements reached in the AFFF MDL with 3M and DuPont-related companies valued collectively at over $13.5 billion for U.S. public water provider claims.

      2024 – Additional nationwide class settlement reached in the AFFF MDL with Tyco and BASF valued collectively at more than $1 billion, and U.S. EPA enacts first PFAS drinking water limits and Superfund designations.

  • In This Article

    You May Also Like