SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s attorney general and its Environment Department filed suit Thursday against the manufacturers of so-called forever chemicals, commonly referred to as PFAS, seeking monetary damages to defray the costs of environmental monitoring and cleanups that they say are inevitable.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez said that 21 companies named in the lawsuit have contributed to environmental contamination in New Mexico through their production and distribution of the chemicals, despite knowing for decades that the compounds pose significant risk to human health.
“We have to step forward and try to protect our community … to hold corporations accountable who have for too long placed their bottom line and placed quarterly profits ahead of the interests of our community, over our natural environment and over public health,” Torrez said at a news conference Thursday in Albuquerque.
PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to cancer and other health problems in humans. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment and remain in the bloodstream.
New Mexico environmental regulators say they are concerned about forever chemicals seeping into aquifers in a state where 80% of residents rely on underground water for household consumption.
“These companies had knowledge that these chemicals cause harm and they still chose profit over people,” state Environment Secretary James Kenney said.
In recent months, states from Rhode Island to California have filed similar lawsuits against major chemical manufacturers, including Maplewood-based 3M and DuPont, on accusations of covering up harm caused to the environment and public health by forever chemicals.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal limits on forever chemicals in drinking water, limiting them to the lowest level that tests can detect. Kenney said that New Mexico previously petitioned the EPA to treat PFAS as hazardous.
Corporate and industry representatives could not immediately be reached for a response to the new lawsuit. The industry group American Chemistry Council has voiced support for “strong, science-based regulation of PFAS chemistries” while warning that overly broad restrictions could impact economic growth, employment and the resiliency of industrial supply chains.
3M announced in December that it will phase out the manufacturing of “forever chemicals” and try to get them out of all their products within two years.
The toxic industrial compounds have been used extensively in firefighting foam, resulting in environmental contamination at military installations and adjoining communities. The state of New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Defense are at odds over responsibilities for mitigating PFAS contamination at installations including Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base.
Near Cannon, the Highland Dairy in Clovis euthanized more than 3,000 cows in 2022 after confirmation of PFAS contamination in the herd — and the milk the cows produced.
Torrez said New Mexico officials are aware of corporate maneuvers aimed at shifting liability to shell companies and are determined to recover significant financial damages nonetheless.