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Maryland class action pins toxic leakage on maker of Gore-Tex fabric

A popular materials manufacturer is accused of emitting harmful chemicals into the air and groundwater.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) — Six Maryland residents brought a federal class action Thursday against a material manufacturing giant that they say knowingly polluted their community with toxic chemicals. 

Represented by attorneys at Baird Mandalas in Baltimore and by Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C., the class alleges that the manufacturing of the popular waterproofing gear Gore-Tex involves PFAS and PFOAS chemicals that are known to be toxic to humans.

They say an investigation is underway after W.L. Gore & Associates was approached by a former employee of its Cherry Hill facility in Elkton, Maryland, who is now battling kidney cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control says PFAS chemicals, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are especially harmful because they bioaccumulate in living organisms, meaning the poison builds up at a faster rate than a body can expel it through normal processes. According to the complaint, the toxins primarily impact the blood serum, kidney and liver. 

W.L. Gore & Associates, a $4.5 billion materials company, employs between 250 and 300 people at its Cherry Hill facility . A lawyer for the class said these employees are among the people who could be harmed by exposure to the harmful toxins as they leached into the air and the surrounding groundwater. 

“Air and water are our most basic and necessary resources, and we’ve dedicated our lives to protecting that,” Baid Mandalas attorney Chase Brockstedt said in a phone interview about the case on Thursday. 

A spokeswoman for Gore said the company is reviewing the allegations about its Cherry Hill facility operations.

"The complaint makes allegations about water data that Gore has not seen," spokeswoman Amy Calhoun said in an email. "W. L. Gore & Associates takes claims of this nature very seriously and will respond more specifically at the appropriate time."

Brockstedt said Gore's Cherry Hill investigation is ongoing and that the company has resolved other large-scale pollution cases. As of Thursday, the investigation has expanded up to 3.5 miles from the facility. 

“All individuals who lived, resided, worked or attended school in the State of Maryland, for a period of at least six months, and have ingested PFOA contaminated water at their residence, work or school, which was supplied with drinking water from a private or public water source or from a PFOA-contaminated private well within 3.5 miles of the Cherry Hill Facility and have not been diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial/uterine cancer, breast cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, Type-2 diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and developmental delays., as of the date this Class is certified,” the 54-page complaint states. 

It is a difficult and lengthy process to back up the theory of a cancer cluster in any given area. Brockstedt said the area surrounding Gore’s Cherry Hill facility has a large number of people who suffer from different types of cancers. 

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