Camas joins nationwide lawsuit against manufacturers of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

Attorneys are working on contingency basis, with no upfront costs to City

The city of Camas has entered into a nationwide lawsuit against the manufacturers of toxic “forever” chemicals used in firefighting foam and other products.

The Camas City Council voted unanimously on Monday, May 1, to join the mass lawsuit and be represented by the three law firms — D’Amore Law Group in Vancouver; the Louisiana-based Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor, LLC; and Baron & Budd, P.C. out of Dallas, Texas.

“The attorneys will operate on a contingency basis, so there are no fees unless they recover (money from the chemical manufacturers),” Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall told the Camas City Council Monday. “If they are not successful, the city still would not owe them any fees. They are doing this, essentially, at their own risk.”

The attorneys will receive 25% of any financial settlement or fines levied against the chemical manufacturers.

In a statement released by Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor, LLC, the attorneys said “the country is facing a contamination crisis with the long-term and widespread use of ‘forever chemicals.’”

“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of man-made chemicals encompassing hundreds of substances, including PFOS and PFOA. PFAS chemicals are toxic but extremely stable. They also do not biodegrade over time,” the law firm stated. “The unique properties of these chemicals make them both well suited as one of the primary components of a variety of products commonly sold, distributed and used throughout the United States, and problematic for the environment PFAS has been commonly used in products ranging from Scotchguard and Teflon products, fire fighting foam, and car wash and wax products.”

The attorneys leading the nationwide lawsuit, which will be litigated in a U.S. district court in South Carolina, explained that “PFAS chemicals are both hydrophobic and oleophobic, making many PFAS effective surfactants or surface protectors, which, for example, allow fire foam to float on water while repelling combustible liquids and provide moisture repelling properties for car wax.”

“Because PFAS chemicals are so persistent, they do not break down in the environment or the human body. They also accumulate over time,” the law firm stated. “PFAS chemicals have been linked to numerous human health effects, such as low infant birth weights, immune system suppression, thyroid hormone disruption and cancer.”

‘Forever chemicals’ found in Camas water system

Elevated levels of the potentially harmful “forever chemicals” were discovered in one of the city of Camas’ 10 drinking water well sources — in “Well 13” near Louis Bloch Park — in 2022.

The City took the well offline and notified its water customers in January 2023.

The city of Camas’ communications director, Bryan Rachal, told The Post-Record in January that determining the exact source of the “forever chemicals” in Well 13 would be “extremely hard to do” and noted that, although some jurisdictions have found elevated PFAS levels in water sources near military bases or certain manufacturing sites, there is no obvious contamination source near Well 13.

“We don’t know why that well was testing higher,” Rachal said.

Testing on Well 13 showed readings of 25 parts per trillion (PPT) in April 2022, and 17 PPT in December 2022 — above the state’s action level of 15 PPT — for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a colorless chemical once used to make products resistant to stains, grease, soil and water and one of five PFAS the state is monitoring.

PFOS has not been manufactured in the U.S. since the early 2000s, but may still be used on products imported from other countries.

“Exposure to PFOS in the United States remains possible due to its legacy uses, existing and legacy uses on imported goods, degradation of precursors, and extremely high persistence in the environment and the human body,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated in 2016, adding that “PFOS was detected in blood serum in up to 99% of the U.S. general population between 1999 and 2012; however, the levels of PFOS in blood have been decreasing since U.S. companies began to phase out production.”

The EPA noted that water contamination by PFOS is usually connected to releases from “manufacturing sites, industrial sites, fire/crash training areas, and industrial or municipal waste sites where products are disposed of or applied.

Wall said Monday that the City continues to test its wells for PFAS and is looking for potential treatment options for Well 13, which Wall said “won’t likely be needed until the peak of demands in the summer.”

Lawsuit concentrates on manufacturers of firefighting foam, PFAS

The lawsuit Camas officials agreed to join this week focuses on the manufacturers of firefighting foam projects known as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and other products containing PFAS.

Class-action suits involving PFAS are ramping up across the nation as more people begin to realize the health dangers associated with the persistent chemicals.

In March, the International Association of Fire Fighters, a union representing more than 300,000 firefighters and paramedics across the U.S. and Canada, filed suit against the National Fire Protection Association for “its role in imposing a testing standard that effectively requires the use of carcinogens (PFAS) in fire safety gear,” and noted that the “forever chemicals” used in firefighting gear have been linked to cancer and that “nearly 75% of those honored at the 2022 Fallen Fire Fighter (memorial) died of occupational cancer.”

In November 2022, California’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against 3M and DuPont, makers of PFAS substances, for “endangering public health, causing irreparable harm to the state’s natural resources and engaging in a widespread campaign to deceive the public.”

““PFAS are as ubiquitous in California as they are harmful,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta stated in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “As a result of a decades-long campaign of deception, PFAS are in our waters, our clothing, our houses, and even our bodies. The damage caused by 3M, DuPont, and other manufacturers of PFAS is nothing short of staggering, and without drastic action, California will be dealing with the harms of these toxic chemicals for generations. (This) lawsuit is the result of a years-long investigation that found that the manufacturers of PFAS knowingly violated state consumer protection and environmental laws. We won’t let them off the hook for the pernicious damage done to our state.”

The California lawsuit noted that PFOS — the chemical discovered in Camas’ Well 13 — was “a PFAS chemical exclusively made by 3M beginning in the 1940s, was a component in firefighting foams used by the military, airports, refineries, and fire departments for decades before it was phased out in the early 2000s.”

Rachal, the city’s communications director, said in January that city staff are researching possible long-term solutions for the PFOS found in Well 13.

“As far as the city is concerned, our water is safe for consumption right now,” Rachal said.