Why Are PFAS Lawsuits the Biggest Legal Battle Since Big Tobacco?

You’ve likely heard about the growing concerns surrounding PFAS chemicals. These man-made compounds, aka “forever chemicals,” are making headlines due to their persistent nature and potential health risks. 

These chemicals are used in various products, including firefighting foams (AFFF), non-stick cookware, and water-repellent fabrics.

Legal battles over PFAS have been raging for years. However, now, it has escalated into what some experts consider the biggest legal showdown since the landmark lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

Why Are PFAS Lawsuits the Biggest Legal Battle Since Big Tobacco?

Why Are PFAS Lawsuits the Biggest Legal Battle Since Big Tobacco

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the history, health impacts, and legal landscape of these chemicals and understand why PFAS lawsuits have become so significant.

Understanding PFAS

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of man-made chemicals that have been used in numerous commercial applications since the 1940s.

Their distinctive traits, such as heat, water, and oil resistance, make them ideal for many products. 

However, these same properties also mean that PFAS does not degrade easily in the environment or the human body. Thus garnering them the byname “forever chemicals.”

Numerous studies have linked PFAS exposure to various health issues, including cancer, thyroid disorders, and developmental problems in children. 


Other health concerns include liver damage, immunosuppression, and cognitive dysfunction in children. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has listed some PFAS compounds as potentially carcinogenic to humans. These findings underscore the significant health risks posed by prolonged PFAS exposure.

A Brief History of PFAS Litigation

The PFAS saga sounds eerily familiar. Like Big Tobacco, chemical manufacturers knew about the risks of PFAS but continued to produce and promote them. 

Internal company documents from as early as 1961 reveal concerns about the dangers, yet they were downplayed, hidden, or even denied Regulatory agencies, unfortunately, were slow to act, allowing these “forever chemicals” to become virtually ubiquitous in our lives. A farmer named Wilbur Tennant tragically lost 150 of his cows due to PFAS contamination from a nearby DuPont plant. 

This sparked one of the first lawsuits in 1999, which DuPont resolved in 2001 by paying an unknown amount. However, Tennant’s case wasn’t an isolated incident. Firefighting foam, known as AFFF, has become a major source of PFAS contamination, particularly at airports and military bases.

Firefighters exposed to this foam have also suffered health consequences, leading to a wave of AFFF lawsuits seeking compensation for their injuries and illnesses. 

Since then, the litigation wave continues to this day. Earlier lawsuits accused the companies of knowingly contaminating water supplies with PFAS.

Over time, the number of cases grew, leading to the consolidation of lawsuits into multidistrict litigation (MDL). 

This MDL has become one of the largest of its kind. It consists of thousands of cases involving personal injury, material losses, and ecological degradation.

Today, a flood of lawsuits is hitting the courts. Individuals suffering from PFAS-related illnesses are seeking justice. Communities burdened with contaminated water supplies are demanding cleanup costs. Even states are suing manufacturers to recover expenses related to testing and remediation. 

According to TruLaw, individuals exposed to AFFF are at a greater risk for certain cancers and other severe health issues.

Their lawsuits aim to hold manufacturers accountable and secure compensation for affected individuals and communities. Some of the biggest cases target industry giants like 3M and DuPont, companies with a long history of PFAS production. 

The Cost of Inaction

The fallout from PFAS contamination goes beyond lawsuits. Cleaning polluted sites is astronomically expensive. Healthcare costs for affected individuals are soaring.

Property values plummet in contaminated areas. And perhaps most importantly, public trust in institutions and corporations is eroding. 

A 2022 study even found PFAS in rainwater, indicating how widespread this contamination has become. According to the National Library of Medicine, PFAS continuously cycles in the hydrosphere, polluting water bodies, soil, and the air. 

Moreover, the study also establishes that the PFAS levels in rainwater greatly exceed those of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended PFAS levels for drinking water.

Comparisons to the Big Tobacco Legal Battle

The PFAS lawsuits have drawn comparisons to landmark legal battles against the tobacco industry. Just as tobacco companies face allegations of concealing the harmful effects of smoking, PFAS manufacturers are accused of downplaying or ignoring the risks associated with their products.

Both industries have faced scrutiny for prioritizing profits over public welfare and safety. The potential financial liabilities for PFAS manufacturers could be staggering, similar to the landmark settlements reached by tobacco companies in the late 20th century. 

Thus far, DuPont, Chemours, Corteva, and 3M have paid over $11 billion in penalties for PFAS contamination. But that figure could spike substantially, even surpassing the $200 billion spent by Big Tobacco. Additionally, both sets of lawsuits have prompted calls for more robust policies and increased corporate responsibility.

The Future of PFAS Litigation

As of now, the future of PFAS litigation looks set to continue with significant developments. The ongoing MDL process is expected to lead to more settlements and possibly some high-profile trials. One of the main challenges will be proving the connection between PFAS exposure and specific health issues, which requires robust scientific evidence.

Moreover, regulators are likely to play a crucial role in shaping the future of PFAS litigation. The EPA and other agencies are increasingly focusing on PFAS regulations, which could lead to stricter limits on PFAS use and more robust cleanup efforts.

In October 2021, the EPA issued a detailed PFAS strategic action plan. This strategy aimed to restrict PFAS releases and expedite contaminated site cleanup. This plan includes enforcing drinking water limits and classifying certain PFAS as toxic pollutants under the Superfund Law

Furthermore, the EPA will also prosecute the violators and other liable entities responsible for their actions. The agency will also force them to assist with PFAS clean-up activities.

People Also Ask

  • Q1. Are PFAS Only Found in Specific Areas, or Should Everyone Be Worried?

Unfortunately, PFAS contamination is a widespread issue. Due to their extensive use and persistence, PFAS have been detected in drinking water sources, soil, and even rainwater across the United States. While some areas might have higher concentrations, it’s wise for everyone to be informed and take steps to reduce their exposure.

  • Q2. Are There Any PFAS Regulations in the Works?

Yes. There’s growing momentum for stricter PFOS regulations. The EPA is now working on mandating federal drinking water guidelines for certain PFAS types. 

Additionally, some states have already enforced their regulations, and more are likely to follow suit. These regulations could limit PFAS levels in drinking water, restrict PFAS use in some products, and require stricter cleanup standards for contaminated sites.

  • Q3. How Can I Reduce My PFAS Exposure?

Truth be told, there’s no escaping PFAS. You can only minimize your exposure. Invest in a good water filter certified to remove PFAS. Choose cookware made of stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick. 

When shopping, buy products labeled “PFAS-free.” These are minor changes, but every bit helps protect you and your family.

Also Check: Exposing the Flaws in FDA’s Medical Device Approval Process


In conclusion, the PFAS legal battle is shaping up to be one of the most significant public health litigations since the Big Tobacco cases.

However, it is not just about money. It’s about holding corporations accountable, protecting public health, and preventing future environmental disasters. 

As public awareness and evidence of PFAS health risks increase, these lawsuits will have far-reaching implications for both industry practices and regulatory policies.

The fight against PFAS is just beginning. But, with each lawsuit filed, we move closer to a future where these “forever chemicals” are no longer a concern.

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