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Class action over PFAS in New York will move ahead, thanks to recent ruling

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By John Breslin | Feb 10, 2020

Taconic's PTFE-coated baguette tray

TROY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - A  class action lawsuit claiming a company that manufactures products containing teflon contaminated the groundwater in and around a town in upstate New York has largely survived a challenge to dismiss the claims.

Residents of the town of Petersburgh accuse the company, Taconic, of polluting the area with a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is alleged to have made its way into wells and the soil from its factory.

Taconic, also known as Tonaga Inc., asked the New York Supreme Court for the County of Rensselaer to dismiss the action on the grounds that many other agencies are dealing with the issues raised and that the company has properly responded to any concerns.

The company manufactured products coated with pietrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the generic name for Teflon, the court noted. PFTE contains PFOA, which is used as a water, oil and grease repellent. It is part of the PFAS family of chemicals that is the subject of lawsuits around the country, as well as regulatory efforts by both the federal government and state governments.

In some instances, states have hired private lawyers on contingency fees to pursue PFAS cases against large companies like DuPont and 3M.

The Petersburgh plaintiffs allege "the contaminants discharged by defendant have been linked to cancers, pregnancy-related conditions and other health issues." Skeptics have alleged that links between PFAS and certain diseases are based on shaky research.

Justice Patrick McGrath, in his Jan. 24 ruling largely dismissing the motion for summary judgment, said the defendant would have to show the "cause of action...has no merit."

"The court finds that there are issues of fact as to whether defendant knew the potential health affects of PFOA, and that it had contaminated the wells and soil of some of its employees and tenants, but failed to take any steps to share PFOA-related information with the greater community," McGrath wrote.

The judge did find in favor of the defendant on the issue of strict liability as he dismissed the claim that the company's intent did not matter. In an earlier ruling, the court also sided with the plaintiffs by refusing to dismiss class action certification.

Four classes were previously certified - three relating to the alleged contamination of property and drinking water with a fourth linked to wider exposure.

The defendant, in its motion to dismiss, argued the court cannot have jurisdiction to decide "disputes within an administrative agency's authority, especially where the agency's specialized experience and technical expertise is involved."

It was argued that several New York agencies are investigating alleged contamination and deciding on remedial measures.

Taconic has also offered expert testimony that the company response up to 2006 was within the standards laid down at that time, and that actions taken since were "timely, appropriate and effective."

The plaintiffs are also arguing Taconic should pay punitive damages because it placed profits above the health and safety of the community. That issue is up to the jury, McGrath said.

Lead class counsel are Faraci Lange and Weitz Luxenberg, while the defendant is represented by Greenberg Traurig and Hollingsworth.

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Organizations in this Story

Weitz and LuxenbergFaraci Lange LLPGreenburg & Traurig