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Major blow to tissue maker Kleenex as lawsuit accuses company of polluting entire Connecticut town with cancer-causing PFAS chemicals

Fabric manufacturer Kleenex is accused of polluting a city’s air and drinking water with toxic “forever chemicals.”

Locals in New Milford, Connecticut – about a two-hour drive from New York City – say the company’s factory releases these substances that have been linked to cancer and infertility.

The lawsuit — which seeks millions in damages — says the chemicals are released from the plant’s smokestack and also enter local water systems from the 165-acre landfill.

Locals say the company has put them at risk of a host of health problems and is driving down house prices in their area.

The above image shows the Kimberly-Clark factory in New Milford, Connecticut. Smoke can be seen emanating from the factory’s chimneys

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex, said there were no PFAS in its products

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex, said there were no PFAS in its products

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Connecticut Federal Court against Kimberly-Clark, the parent company of Kleenex.

The factory is said to use per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals to make rolling papers

PFAS are forever toxic chemicals that get their name because they are extremely difficult to break down and persist in the environment for centuries.

Over time, they can build up in waterways and even in people’s bodies – with previous studies also linking the chemicals to a weakened immune system.

PFAS chemicals can be mixed with tissue paper during the manufacturing process to make pulping the paper more efficient.

They can also get into the paper if they come off machines that are coated with chemicals to prevent paper pulp from sticking.

PFAS are also used in a range of other products, including cooking appliances, food packaging such as microwaveable popcorn bags and waterproof clothing.

Kimberly-Clark says it does not use PFAS in its tissues, that the claim is “baseless” and that it plans to defend itself “vigorously” in court.

The lawsuit was filed by Bethany DePaul, Arlene Quaranta and Meredith Quaranta, all of whom live within three miles of the New Milford plant.

The lawsuit states, “Kimberly-Clark’s manufacturing practices caused emissions containing PFAS chemicals to become airborne, travel, and ultimately deposit PFAS chemicals onto plaintiffs’ property and into plaintiffs’ drinking water wells.

‘Kimberly-Clark knew, or reasonably should have known, that PFAS chemicals are toxic, harmful to human health, resist natural degradation, make air, soil and drinking water unsafe and/or undrinkable and can be removed from the air removed and water supply if proper measures are taken.’

The lawsuit accuses the company of negligence, arguing that it has a duty to exercise reasonable care not to expose residents to toxic chemicals.

They say the company breached this duty because it failed to warn them that PFAS was being used and failed to take steps to stop its release.

Houses pictured in New Milford, Connecticut.  Locals say the factory also lowers their housing prices and pollutes local water

Houses pictured in New Milford, Connecticut. Locals say the factory also lowers their housing prices and pollutes local water

Houses pictured on a street in New Milford, Connecticut, about a two-hour drive from New York City

Houses pictured on a street in New Milford, Connecticut, about a two-hour drive from New York City

The proposed lawsuit would include all residents of the area, with New Milford having a population of about 6,700.

It is seeking damages for financial losses and punitive damages and requires Kimberly-Clark to install water filters and set up a fund to monitor residents’ health.

The court will now have to determine whether the case meets the requirements for class certification – or whether the case represents people in the area – and both sides will then have to begin collecting evidence of PFAS chemicals in the area.

Both parties will be encouraged to settle their differences outside of court before the case goes to trial.

It’s not clear how much money locals are seeking, but in a case against DuPont over PFAS pollution last year, the company had to pay more than $1.2 billion for damages and to help clean up the local environment.

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed in recent years against manufacturers of PFAS and the companies that use the chemicals to create a wide range of products, including lawsuits against other companies that produce paper products in Wisconsin and Maine.

Chemical manufacturers such as 3M, DuPont de Nemours, Chemours and Corteva have also been hit by lawsuits.

Kimberly-Clark said in a statement: “We believe the allegations in this lawsuit are without merit and intend to vigorously defend against them.

“We do not use PFAS in any of our U.S. consumer products.”