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B.C. launches class-action lawsuit against makers of 'forever chemicals'

Attorney General Niki Sharma pauses while responding to questions outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Nov. 27, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck) Attorney General Niki Sharma pauses while responding to questions outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Nov. 27, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
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The British Columbia government has filed a class-action lawsuit against manufacturers of so-called "forever chemicals," involved in what it calls widespread contamination of drinking-water systems.

Attorney General Niki Sharma says the province is the first Canadian jurisdiction to sue makers of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS chemicals.

B.C. has filed similar class-action lawsuits in the past, targeting tobacco manufacturers in 1998 and opioid makers in 2018 to recover health-care costs associated with those substances.

Sharma says in a statement that the province is filing the lawsuit to "ensure that companies that created the problem, and profited from these chemicals, pay their fair share."

The lawsuit targets 12 companies that include firms associated with the chemical giants 3M, DuPont and BASF.

It says the defendants knew that when their products were used as directed, "toxic PFAS chemicals would be released, would contaminate the environment for centuries, and would pose significant threats to human health."

"The defendants did not warn the Canadian public of the dangers posed by their PFAS-containing products or take any steps to modify or remove their products to avoid these harms — instead, they concealed and affirmatively contradicted the known dangers in public statements and marketing campaigns designed to enrich themselves at the public’s expense," says the lawsuit, filed Friday in the Supreme Court of B.C. in Vancouver.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, exposure to PFAS products may lead to childhood obesity, weakened immune systems and certain types of cancer.

University of B.C. chemical and biological engineering professor Madjid Mohseni said PFAS products are “very ubiquitous” in daily life, and can be found in many consumer products.

These include non-stick cookware and food packaging with waxy coatings, waterproof clothing and stain-resistant carpets, said Mohseni.

He said the chemicals contain a carbon-fluorine bond, the strongest bond in organic chemistry, earning them the "forever chemical" nickname.

“These carbon-fluorine bonds are extremely resilient and extremely strong, they cannot be broken down easily," he said.

“Once you manufacture these products, they are very difficult to degrade and be removed, so they stay in the environment for years."

Mohseni said research has linked the chemicals to health problems, including thyroid disease, kidney disease, and cancer.

“They make our lives very easy and convenient. Unfortunately, the downside is that they are bringing harm to our environment and also our public health,” said Mohseni.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.

 

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