Illinois AG sues manufacturers over contamination from 'forever chemicals' in firefighting foam

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a lawsuit this week against multiple companies that manufacture PFAS - commonly known as "forever chemicals" - used in the type of foam used to fight fires.

The lawsuit alleges that in manufacturing, selling and marketing the chemicals, the companies benefit while knowingly contaminating Illinois' environment and natural resources, according to a news release from the Attorney General's Office.

Aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, is a fire suppressant used to extinguish flammable liquid fires such as fuel fires. The foam is often used at industrial facilities, airports and by fire departments.

The suit contends that AFFF manufacturers are aware their products are dangerous to both human health and the environment, but they continue to produce the chemical while misleading the public about its toxic properties.

"For years, manufacturers have been aware of the dangers of PFAS and AFFF yet still promote the chemicals as being safe to use. As a result, these 'forever chemicals' have contaminated water supplies across Illinois," Raoul said in a news release. "Manufacturers must be held accountable for the widespread contamination to our natural resources, as we take an important step with this lawsuit to further protect our environment and public health."

The state is seeking monetary damages to deal with the contamination, as well as a requirement that the companies take action to prevent ongoing contamination, according to the complaint filed in Cook County circuit court Wednesday.

Following the filing, manufacturer 3M released a statement asserting that it acted responsibly in connection with its products containing PFAS - including AFFF.

"(3M) will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship," the company said. "AFFF was a critical tool developed to serve an important need for military service members and other responders facing potentially life-threatening challenges."

Raoul previously filed a lawsuit in January alleging that 14 manufacturers sold PFAS-containing products in Illinois and actively promoted them as safe despite knowing the chemicals carried health and environmental risks.

Similar suits were also filed by North Carolina, California and Wisconsin.

The Illinois Attorney General's office also filed a lawsuit in March of 2022 over 3M's handling of PFAS, alleging ongoing contamination at and around the company's facility in Cordova, Illinois.

PFAS manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont are facing a growing number of lawsuits from communities across the country - including Cary, Lake in the Hills and South Elgin - alleging the companies hid the dangers of PFAS while continuing to sell them.

PFAS, launched for widespread commercial use in the 1950s, are used in industrial and consumer products to make items nonstick and oil-, water- or stain-resistant. That includes things like nonstick pans, waterproof jackets and even shampoo and conditioner.

There are about 5,000 of these human-made chemical compounds. Released into our soil, water and air through landfill leakage, sewage sludge and industrial waste, they have been the subject of growing environmental concerns due to their uniquely everlasting quality that earned them the nickname "forever chemicals."

"PFAS contaminants may be linked to serious adverse health effects in humans, including increased serum cholesterol, immune dysregulation, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and kidney and testicular cancers," according to the release. "Exposure to certain types of PFAS is also associated with low birth weight in babies, suppressed immune system response, dyslipidemia, impaired kidney function and delayed onset of menstruation."

There are currently no state or federal regulatory limits for PFAS, though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has released six state health advisories for the substances since 2021. The declarations are nonenforceable, and the agency is currently working on developing statewide water quality standards.

The Illinois standards will be developed using data from a statewide sampling investigation completed by the agency in 2022. The investigation began in the fall of 2020 and sampled for 18 different PFAS.

Out of nearly 1,500 testing sites, the IEPA detected PFAS at 149 - including the city of Evanston's water utility, which services Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Wheeling and Des Plaines.

The attorney general's latest lawsuit alleges that based on the prevalent use of AFFF at military installations, airports and firefighting locations throughout Illinois, AFFF has also contaminated groundwater and surface water not used for drinking water across Illinois.

"PFAS contamination is well documented in Illinois' environment, including in groundwater and drinking water," Illinois EPA Director John Kim said in a statement. "We continue our support of Attorney General Raoul's office in his efforts to identify responsible parties and support the remediation of the contamination found in many Illinois communities."

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.