November 30, 2022

Volume XII, Number 334

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PFAS Consumer Fraud Lawsuit Just the Latest…and Only the Beginning

On August 26, 2022, a PFAS consumer fraud class action lawsuit was filed in New York against Proctor & Gamble over alleged PFAS content in the Oral B brand of floss. The lawsuit is but the latest in a growing line of PFAS lawsuits that allege that certain consumer goods contain PFAS, that the products were marketed as safe for use, healthy, or environmentally friendly, and that consumers would not have purchased the products if they knew that the products contained PFAS.

As we predicted in early 2021, the increased attention on PFAS content in consumer goods in the scientific community and media presented significant risks to various industries, including the cosmetics industry, and our prediction was that the developments would lead to a significant number of lawsuits alleging consumer fraud. Consumer goods industries, insurers, and investment companies interested in the consumer goods vertical with niche interest in cosmetics companies must pay careful attention to the cosmetics lawsuits and the increasing trend of lawsuits targeting the industry.

Oral B PFAS Consumer Fraud Lawsuit

On August 26, 2022, plaintiff Alan Dalewitz filed a lawsuit in the New York federal court seeking a proposed class action against Proctor & Gamble. The lawsuit alleges that the company represented to consumers that its products adhere to “rigorous safety process[es] to analyze every ingredient – before we ever consider putting it in one of our products” and that the company is dedicated to “helping ensure a healthy planet.” Specific to the Oral B product, plaintiffs claim that the product is marketed as “pro health.” The lawsuit alleges that all of the company’s claims regarding the safety of its products and the environmentally friendly nature of the products are false and misleading, and that the presence of PFAS in the company’s dental floss was fraudulently concealed from consumers.

The plaintiff seeks certification of the class action lawsuit, damages, fees, costs and a jury trial. The proposed class is any consumer in New York who purchased the relevant Oral B dental floss products during a certain time period.

Just the Beginning For Consumer Products Companies

With studies underway, legislation pending that targets consumer goods, and increasing media reporting on PFAS in consumer goods and concerns over human health, product manufacturers should be increasingly wary of lawsuits similar to the Proctor & Gamble lawsuit being filed against them. There are an increasing number of PFAS consumer fraud cases being filed, with some of the below as representative of recent trends:

  • Cosmetics industry:

    • Brown v. Cover Girl, New York (April 1, 2022)

    • Anderson v. Almay, New York (April 1, 2022)

    • Rebecca Vega v. L’Oreal, New Jersey (April 8, 2022)

    • Spindel v. Burt’s Bees, California (March 25, 2022)

    • Hicks and Vargas v. L’Oreal, New York (March 9, 2022)

    • Davenport v. L’Oreal, California (February 22, 2022)

  • Food packaging industry:

    • Richburg v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)

    • Ruiz v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)

    • Hamman v. Cava Group, California (April 27, 2022)

    • Azman Hussain v. Burger King, California (April 11, 2022)

    • Little v. NatureStar, California (April 8, 2022)

    • Larry Clark v. McDonald’s, Illinois (March 28, 2022)

  • Feminine hygiene products:

    • Gemma Rivera v. Knix Wear Inc., California (April 4, 2022)

    • Blenis v. Thinx, Inc., Massachusetts (June 18, 2021)

    • Destini Canan v. Thinx Inc., California (November 12, 2020)

As the above is indicative of, several major companies now find themselves embroiled in litigation focused on PFAS false advertising, consumer protection violations, and deceptive statements made in marketing and ESG reports. The lawsuits may well serve as test cases for plaintiffs’ bar to determine whether similar lawsuits will be successful in any (or all) of the fifty states in this country. Companies must consider the possibility of needing to defend lawsuits involving plaintiffs in all fifty states for products that contain PFAS.

It should be noted that these lawsuits would only touch on the marketing, advertising, ESG reporting, and consumer protection type of issues. Separate products lawsuits could follow that take direct aim at obtaining damages for personal injury for plaintiffs from consumer products. In addition, environmental pollution lawsuits could seek damage for diminution of property value, cleanup costs, and PFAS filtration systems if drinking water cleanup is required.

Conclusion

It is of the utmost importance that businesses along the whole supply chain in the cosmetics industry evaluate their PFAS risk. Public health and environmental groups urge legislators to regulate PFAS at an ever-increasing pace. Similarly, state level EPA enforcement action is increasing at a several-fold rate every year. Now, the first wave of lawsuits take direct aim at the consumer products industry. Companies that did not manufacture PFAS, but merely utilized PFAS in their manufacturing processes, are therefore becoming targets of costly enforcement actions at rates that continue to multiply year over year. Lawsuits are also filed monthly by citizens or municipalities against companies that are increasingly not PFAS chemical manufacturers.

©2022 CMBG3 Law, LLC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 249
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About this Author

John Gardella Environmental Law Attorney CMBG3 Law Firm
Shareholder

John Gardella is a Shareholder at CMBG3 Law in Boston, a law firm specializing in the regulatory, litigation, and compliance aspects of numerous environmental and toxic torts issues. He is a member of the firm’s PFAS Team, which counsels clients on PFAS related issues ranging from state violations to remediation litigation. Mr. Gardella has over 15 years of experience litigating environmental and toxic torts matters, including asbestos, PFAS, benzene, lead paint, mold, talc, hazardous waste and pollution matters. He is a successful trial attorney with over 75 verdicts to...

617-279-8225
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