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Brian Gross has an exceptional track record of finding client-oriented solutions to complex litigation issues. Drawing on two decades of courtroom experience, he handles a broad spectrum of litigation, including products liability, food and beverage liability claims, asbestos and other toxic tort litigation, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, environmental litigation, as well as trucking claims, general liability issues, and business disputes for clients across the United States. Whether he is trying an individual case or managing national litigation, clients trust Brian to keep their best interests firmly in his sights.

On September 29, 2022, The World Health Organization (WHO) published its draft guidance on perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (“PFOS”) in drinking water, which are the most widely studied of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a vast group of man-made chemicals found in many consumer products due to their desirable chemical properties. PFAS, however, resist degradation and, in some cases, have migrated into soil and groundwater, which created concern regarding its environmental and human health impact. As a result, a number of government agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and a number of state governments, have issued recommendations and/or imposed maximum limits on PFAS in drinking water.

In 2016, the EPA issued Lifetime Health Advisories (“LHA”) for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion (“ppt”) in drinking water. Since that time, a number of states have issued more stringent maximum contaminant levels for PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS. For instance, California has set notification levels as low as 5.1 ppt for PFOA and 6.5 ppt for PFOS. In addition, earlier this year EPA issued new LHAs for PFOA and PFOS that reduced the recommended levels to 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOs. Those levels are 17,500 times and 3,500 times, respectively, lower than EPA’s prior LHAs, and levels that are essentially zero, as current techniques are unable to detect PFAS at those levels. While EPA asserted that its revised LHAs are based on emerging science, a number of groups have criticized EPA’s actions and called into question the scientific basis for its new LHAs. In fact, the American Chemistry Council (“ACC”) recently filed suit against EPA seeking to challenge the new LHAs for PFAS, noting that “EPA’s revised [LHAs] for PFOA and PFOS reflect a failure of the Agency to follow its accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process.” The WHO’s draft guidance lends support to those, including the ACC and National Academy of Sciences, who have criticized EPA’s LHAs. Based on its review of the current scientific and medical studies, the WHO recommends a limit of 100 ppt for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, a limit that is 25,000 times higher than that which the EPA recommends. In addition, Health Canada recently issued its guidance for PFOA and PFAs in drinking water. It recommends limits of 200 ppt for PFOA and 600 ppt for PFOS, further calling into question EPA’s LHAs.

While the WHO’s guidance is significantly at odds with that of the EPA’s, many are stating that this difference underscores the amount of uncertainty with regard to the impact of PFAS on human health. In issuing its recommendation, the EPA found its recommended limit to be at a “level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur,” while WHO concluded that “uncertainties in identifying the key endpoint applicable to human health following exposure to PFOS and/or PFOA are too significant to derive a Health Based Guidance Value (HBGV)
Continue Reading WHO’s Recent Guidance Underscores Uncertainty With Regard to PFAS

In recent years, state and federal agencies have either passed or proposed increasingly stringent regulations regarding the use of per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in consumer products. Not surprisingly, the state of California has been at the forefront of these efforts. California’s place at the forefront of PFAS regulation continues, as the California legislature recently passed three new bills—AB 2771, AB 1817, and AB 2247—seeking to eliminate the use of PFAS in textiles and cosmetics.

AB 2771 would prohibit the manufacture, sale or marketing of any cosmetic product that contains intentionally added PFAS. AB 1817 would prohibit the manufacturing, distribution or marketing of any new textile article—including clothing—that contains regulated PFAS. AB 1817 also requires a manufacturer of textiles to provide customers or suppliers a certificate of compliance stating that the product does not contain regulated PFAS. Lastly, AB 2247 would require any manufacturer of PFAS or a product containing intentionally added PFAS to register the PFAS or the product containing intentionally added PFAS into a publicly accessible data collection interface. Violations of the reporting requirement would be subject to civil penalties and other enforcement provisions.

Governor Newsom is expected to sign the bills into law no later than September 30, 2022. If passed, these bills will go into effect January 1, 2025, with the exception of AB 2247, which would go into effect July 1, 2026.

However, even if these bills are passed, it is yet to be seen whether these bills will withstand judicial scrutiny given they are, arguably, at odds with federal law. The US Federal Drug and Food Administration—the federal agency charged with regulating the food, drug, and cosmetics industry—has not banned PFAS from any of the products under its purview. In fact, the FDA has specifically approved some types of PFAS for use in certain food contact applications, reflecting a governmental determination that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will come from their use in the applications for which they have been approved. As such, it is expected that manufacturers of these products may challenge the enforcement of these statutes.

Notwithstanding the potential conflict between California and federal law, companies involved in the manufacture and sale of PFAS-containing cosmetics and textiles—including clothes and carpeting materials—should actively research alternatives to PFAS in their products right now. Businesses simply cannot assume that California’s new laws will be unenforceable, particularly with the EPA’s stated intent to further regulate PFAS. Should businesses fail to prepare, they could risk losing product sales in California, the world’s fifth largest economy.
Continue Reading California To Pass Three Bills Regulating Use of PFAS in Cosmetics and Clothing

For many years, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been ubiquitous in American commerce and industry. That ubiquitous use, and the fact that PFAS chemicals do not break down in the environment, has led to the presence of PFAS in groundwater to varying degrees throughout the country. As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has turned its full attention to PFAS regulation. In fact, EPA issued a PFAS Strategic Roadmap that sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions, as it states, “to safeguard public health, protect the environment, and hold polluters accountable.” Pursuant to the Roadmap, the EPA issued interim health advisories on June 15, 2022, in which they advised that the safe lifetime drinking level for PFAS chemicals are as low as .004 parts per trillion (ppt) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and .02 ppt for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). To put that in context, one should understand that a level of .004 ppt equates to 1 drop out of 4.5 billion gallons of water., and that such miniscule levels are undetectable by current testing instruments, essentially making it zero.

According to the EPA, its interim health advisories are determined based on review of all available science by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. It is unclear, however, on what the Science Advisory Board relied in reaching its conclusions concerning the level of exposure at which to set the advisory limit, as there is not only no current epidemiological studies that demonstrate that PFAS chemicals actually cause any adverse health consequences, there are certainly no scientific studies that support a level of exposure near zero.

The EPA’s interim health advisories are not regulations, and are not enforceable. They do, however, portend the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) that the EPA is considering and may eventually enact for drinking water. The EPA is scheduled to issue its proposed regulatory level in fall 2022—only months away—and the rule is expected to go into effect in 2023.

In setting the MCLs, the EPA attempts get the MCL as close to the health advisory limit as feasible. Unlike with health advisories, though, the EPA must prepare a health risk reduction and cost analysis (HRRCA), which takes into account the quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits that will result from the proposed standard, as well as the increased costs that will result from the proposed drinking water standard. It does not, however, require EPA to consider the benefits in the use of PFAS, including improved safety, durability and fuel efficiency in applications such as cars, airplanes, buildings and electronics, not to mention firefighting where its use is still mandated.

Should the EPA enact drinking water standards near the current health advisory limits, it is likely that the vast majority, if not all, water systems in the United States will require costly remediation. The State of New York estimates that remediation of PFAS in the state’s drinking water to a level of 4 parts per trillion, a standard 1,000 time less strict than the amount
Continue Reading Threat of Zero-Allowance Regulations Loom for Forever Chemicals

On June 15, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new health advisories for drinking water relating to four select classes of per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFOA or PFOS) —also referred to as PFAS chemicals. Dubbed “forever chemicals,” and found in such common consumer products as shampoo, food wrappers, and non-stick cookware, PFAS chemicals have gained nationwide attention in recent years both for their extreme bio-persistence and their ubiquity in consumer and personal care products.

In a drastic departure from the agency’s 2016 advisory health limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS, the EPA now recommends limits approaching zero (0.004 and 0.02 for PFOA and PFOS, respectively) based on what it claims to be new medical and scientific research. In addition, the EPA went even further and issued health advisories for “GenX” chemicals and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) (10 ppt and 2,000 ppt, respectively), two additional PFAS chemicals designed to replace PFOA and PFOS, due to growing concern that PFAS chemicals cause adverse health effects. While today’s guidance acts as little more than a recommendation to local leaders, the EPA reports that it is on track to propose mandatory standards in the fall of 2022. Should the recommended health advisory levels be adopted by the still-pending peer review of the Scientific Advisory Board and processed through the executive rulemaking process, the failure of local water authorities to meet these standards will result in financial penalties.

Maintaining PFAS levels below those suggested in the EPA’s recent guidance will be incredibly difficult, and perhaps impossible, for local water authorities. PFAS have earned their designation as forever chemicals due to their inability to naturally degrade over time. This environmental resistance and water solubility of PFAS, coupled with approximately 80+ years of prevalent use in consumer and industrial products, has resulted in their almost ubiquitous presence in global waterways. The burden to finance the testing, construction, maintenance and operation of PFAS removal systems will fall squarely on local water utilities, which must now prepare to develop systems that can meet levels that fall below even the EPA’s ability to detect. Overburdened and underfunded municipalities faced with this dilemma will almost certainly seek to recover these costs from the manufacturers, producers and suppliers of PFAS chemicals and PFAS-containing products.
Continue Reading EPA Hints at Potentially Crippling Regulations to Come Regarding PFAS in Drinking Water

On October 1, 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of MG+M client The Boeing Company (“Boeing”) in an appeal of an order that remanded the case to state court. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s remand order and adopted Boeing’s argument that the thirty day removal clock is not triggered until “an amended pleading, motion, order, or other paper” makes the grounds for removal “unequivocally clear and certain.”[1]

The federal officer removal statute is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1442 and permits removal if: (1) the removing party is a “person”; (2) a causal nexus exists between the plaintiff’s claims and defendant’s actions taken at the direction of a federal officer; and (3) the removing party has a colorable federal defense.[2] 28 U.S.C. § 1446 governs the corresponding procedure for such removal and allows two pathways for perfecting removal:  (1)  if the basis for removal is clear from the initial pleading, the case must be removed within thirty days from receipt of that pleading; or (2)  if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, the case must be removed within thirty days of receipt of “an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.”[3]

In the underlying case, Plaintiff sued Boeing and other defendants in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that she developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. Plaintiff’s Complaint failed to state any basis for removal, but Plaintiff later alleged that she was exposed to asbestos through the work her husband allegedly performed on Boeing aircraft while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, thus triggering federal officer jurisdiction.  Boeing removed the case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), within thirty days of ascertaining that the case was removable.[4]  Nevertheless, the district court, relying on its interpretation of Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1253 (9th Cir. 2006), rejected the “unequivocally clear and certain” standard for triggering removal argued by Boeing, and concluded that Boeing’s removal was untimely because it was in possession of “sufficient facts” to justify removal prior to receiving Plaintiff’s amended discovery responses.  Accordingly, the district court granted Plaintiff’s motion to remand and awarded attorneys’ fees to Plaintiff, finding that Boeing’s removal was objectively unreasonable. Boeing appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that Boeing removed the case within thirty days of ascertaining that the case was removable.  Dietrich v. The Boeing Company, et al., No. 19-56409 (Ninth Circuit 2021) at 14.  The Court explained that the district court’s reliance on Durham’s statement that the removal clock begins to run when “sufficient facts” are disclosed was misplaced because it “does not tell us when the facts disclosed” are sufficient.  Id. at 13 (emphasis in original).  Its reliance equated “facts sufficient to allow removal with facts sufficient to require removal.” Id.  (emphasis in original).  To avoid such confusion
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Adopts “Unequivocally Clear and Certain” Standard to Determine When 30-Day Removal Clock is Triggered