Oklahoma AG Drummond Issues RFPs for Future Legal Action Involving Synthetic Chemicals in Water Supply

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is considering legal action against companies linked to chemicals found in Oklahoma water supplies, according to a news report by The Journal Record.

During a news release on Tuesday, Oklahoma’s AG said he may seek the support of statewide law firms in pursuing potential litigation.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) chemicals, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are synthetic chemicals widely used in manufacturing. They’re found in everything from non-stick cookware to boots and firefighter personal protective equipment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, high concentrations of some PFAS may lead to adverse health risks. The U.S. Geological Survey also has reported PFAS chemicals found in nearly half of the nation’s tap water, including Oklahoma City’s tap water supply.

Drummond said he recently solicited requests for proposals from private law firms that may become potential partners in litigation over water and land contamination in Oklahoma by PFAS chemicals.

“These chemicals pose a threat to everyone, and our firefighters and military personnel are at even higher risk,” said Drummond. “I am seeking proposals from qualified law firms whose expertise can assist me in determining the best approach to protecting the health and safety of my fellow Oklahomans.”

Numerous studies have shown that once PFAS chemicals are absorbed through food or drinking water, they accumulate in the human body and remain for many years. Low birth weight, high cholesterol, cancer and other illnesses have been associated with PFAS, said Drummond.

The USGS recently tested for PFAS in tap water derived from both private and government-regulated public supplies across the country and used data to model and estimate PFAS contamination nationwide. It reported that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to have one or more types of PFAS.

There are more than 12,000 types of the chemicals in all, not all of which currently can be detected. The USGS study tested for the presence of 32 PFAS types in all. It said its goals were to help better define risks and to inform decisions regarding testing and treatment options for drinking water.

Researchers are working to better understand the potential health effects of long-term PFAS exposure; however, the EPA proposed imposing limits in March for the first time on the chemicals found in drinking water.

In its study, the USGS collected tap water samples from 716 locations representing a range of low, medium and high human-impacted areas. The low-impacted areas included protected lands. Medium-impacted areas included residential and rural areas with no known PFAS sources while high-impacted areas included urban lands and locations with reported PFAS sources such as industry or waste sites.

The study’s results were found to be in line with previous research that concluded people in urban areas have a higher likelihood of PFAS exposure. USGS scientists estimated that the probability of PFAS not being observed in tap water is about 75% in rural areas and around 25% in urban areas.

The multi-layered coats and pants worn by firefighters have become the latest flashpoint for litigation. The International Association of Fire Fighters has reported that cancer has replaced heart disease as the biggest “line-of duty” cause of death of firefighters, who are exposed daily to a voluminous list of carcinogens produced by fires. As they learn more about PFAS, firefighters have grown more suspicious that their personal protective equipment or PPE may be sickening them.

Lawsuits have already been filed in different parts of the country. One defendant in the lawsuits is 3M Co. Though the company has said that it manufactures personal protective equipment that meets nationally recognized standards, it also announced recently that it would stop manufacturing PFAS by the end of 2025 and work to discontinue using the chemicals in its products.

Finding ways to transition away from PFAS chemicals will be challenging. The American Chemistry Council has said that “PFAS-based materials are the only viable options for some key equipment that meet the vital performance properties required for firefighting gear.”

“It is not scientifically accurate or appropriate to group this vast family of solid, liquid and gaseous substances into a one-size-fits-all class,” said Tom Flanagin, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council.