Federal Court Requests Scientific Information on Diseases Associated with PFAS Exposure

Parties must gather scientific evidence on the human health effects attributable to PFAS exposure in drinking water, the US District Court for the District of South Carolina ordered in the case In Re Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation MDL 2873 last week.  The multi-district litigation focuses on the health hazards posed by aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), which are used as fire suppressants and allegedly contain PFAS such as PFOA and PFOS.

Plaintiffs allege that AFFF use at military bases, airports, and other locations caused the release of PFAS into local groundwater, which then entered the water supply.  According to Judge Richard Mark Gergel’s order, the litigation now includes over 20,000 cases, the majority of which raise personal injury claims.

The court adopted a bellwether program for these claims, focusing on alleged connections between exposure and four diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypothyroidism/thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.  However, Gergel wrote that those diseases only make up a “small minority” of personal injury cases.  To determine which of the other cases have merit, Gergel directed the parties to propose a case management order within 60 days that includes the following:

  • A date by which plaintiffs must identify diseases not addressed in the bellwether program that they allege are the result of exposure to AFFF-contaminated drinking water,
  • A date by which the parties must produce peer-reviewed articles that support or challenge an association between exposure to AFFF-contaminated drinking water and an identified disease,
  • A plan for a science day where the parties can present experts to address those associations and
  • A plan for selecting bellwether cases for those associations.

In a separate order, Gergel stated that the court would select 28 personal injury cases as bellwether cases from a list of proposed bellwether cases submitted jointly by the parties.