Connecticut Property Owners Sue Kimberly-Clark Over Alleged PFAS Contamination

By Andrew G. Simpson | March 7, 2024

Some of manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Corp.’s neighbors in New Milford, Connecticut believe the paper goods manufacturer has contaminated their soil and drinking water with PFAS chemicals.

Three of them have filed a proposed class action claiming that contamination from the manufacturer’s plant located about three miles from their properties has increased their risk of cancer and other diseases and deprived them of enjoyment of their real property.

The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages in excess of $5 million as well as damages for financial losses and punitive damages. They are also asking the court to direct Kimberly-Clark to install systems capable of filtering PFAS chemicals down to non-detectable levels and establish a medical testing and monitoring program.

New Milford property owners Bethany DePaul, Arlene Quaranta, and Meredith Quaranta filed their proposed class action on February 28 in federal district court. The suit targets Kimberly-Clark’s alleged “intentional, reckless, and/or negligent acts and omissions in connection with the discharge, distribution, and/or disposal of” PFAS, which they maintain have caused the contamination of real property and drinking water supplies owned and used by plaintiffs and other members of the proposed class.

Their legal claims against Kimberly-Clark include negligence, private nuisance, public nuisance, strict liability and unfair trade practices.

PFAS—or perfluorinated alkylated substances — are artificial chemicals that are highly resistant and can persist in the environment for long periods of time, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” They are used in manufacturing and added to consumer products, such as food packaging, cookware, carpeting, clothing, paper goods, and cosmetics, as well as in a foam material used by firefighters.

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PFAS are widely used because they can provide resilience and protection against corrosion and weather. Manufacturers contend there is no other substance that does what they do and to completely eliminate them would be a huge blow to the economy. The Defense Department has also warned that they are vital to national security as they are used in in weapons systems, information technology and machinery.

The lawsuit cites a list of potential adverse health effects of PFAS contamination from the Environmental Protection Agency including reproductive effects in pregnant women; developmental effects in children; increased risk of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer; and increased cholesterol levels and risk of obesity.

Manufacturing Facility

Kimberly-Clark has produced paper goods at the manufacturing facility on Pickett District Road in New Milford since the late 1950s. The New Milford facility is situated on a nearly 60-acre parcel bordering the Housatonic River and employs more than 350 workers making diapers and tissue products for popular household brands such as Kleenex, Scott, and Huggies. According to the complaint, many products Kimberly-Clark manufactures are known to utilize or contain types of PFAS chemicals in the process of manufacturing.

Kimberly-Clark also owns a 165-acre landfill site located up the road from the New Milford manufacturing facility where, the complaint says, Kimberly-Clark dumped “short fiber paper sludge”—a byproduct of the paper manufacturing process believed to contain “high concentrations” of PFAS chemicals. “It is likely that PFAS chemicals in the short fiber paper sludge dumped at the New Milford landfill have leached into the surrounding area,” the complaint says, citing a situation in Fullerton, California where local officials discovered that a large drinking water well located adjacent to the Fullerton Kimberly-Clark site was contaminated with PFAS chemicals, requiring immediate remediation.

The plaintiffs in the class action claim that results of testing of their own properties and soil samples in the surrounding area confirm PFAS chemical contamination caused by Kimberly-Clark’s New Milford facility, which the plaintiffs maintain is the only likely source of the chemicals in the area.

The complaint also cites test data from North Carolina, New Hampshire, and New York concerning PFAS emissions from smokestacks from manufacturing facilities and large industrial users of PFAS-containing products.

The New Milford plaintiffs seek to represent “thousands” of citizens of Connecticut who are or were owners of real property located in New Milford, or surrounding towns whose land and/or water supply have been contaminated with detectable levels of PFAS chemicals.

Other Lawsuits

There have been thousands of lawsuits filed across the country in the last several years over alleged PFAS contamination. They include lawsuits by other states claiming damage to natural resources and water, individuals claiming personal injury, and consumer class actions.

Major manufacturers 3M, DuPont, Chemours and Corteva have reached settlements in some cases but thousands of suits remain in courts. A group of 22 states has opposed as inadequate the biggest of the settlements, a deal by 3M that would provide $10.3 billion over a 13-year period to cities, towns and other public water systems.

Connecticut Sues 28 Firms for Alleged Contamination by ‘Forever Chemicals’

In Connecticut, the state’s attorney general, William Tong, has filed two lawsuits against 28 manufacturers seeking to hold them responsible for alleged PFAS chemical contamination. Kimberly-Clark was not named in Tong’s lawsuits. Tong seeks to recover past and future costs related to testing and monitoring of PFAS and remediation of harm to drinking water, soil, and wildlife, as well as civil penalties and compensation for all expenses paid by the state in responding to PFAS pollution.

Last November, a U.S. appeals court in Cincinnati dismissed a massive “forever chemicals” class action against multiple manufacturers that encompassed almost 12 million Ohio residents. The court found that the lead plaintiff filed too broad a complaint against the manufacturers and had not shown that PFAS that were found in his body could be traced directly to units of 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers.

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