Read the full article by Sharon Udasin and Rachel Frazin (The Hill)

First in a four-part series

“Brenda Hampton says the heart attack she endured last month might be a blessing in disguise — a second chance at challenging a complex legal system that barred her from seeking compensation for years of renal failure. 

‘I’m thinking God is opening the door for me. I’ve got a feeling of that,’ Hampton, the founder of Concerned Citizens of WMEL (West Morgan and East Lawrence) Water Authority, told The Hill. 

Through her organization, also known as Concerned Citizens of North Alabama Grassroots, Hampton has been raising awareness about the severe contamination from ‘forever chemicals’ — per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — that have for decades plagued portions of Alabama’s Lawrence County, where Hampton lives.  

PFAS are sometimes called forever chemicals because they can accumulate in the body over time, instead of breaking down, and also linger in the environment for decades on end. 

Hampton, 66, has been investigating the northern Alabama contamination personally since 2015, as well as bringing bottled water to impacted residents and championing local legal battles involving impacted water agencies and residents. Her grandparents both died of renal failure, as did her mother in 2001, just four years after Hampton gave her a kidney.

But despite suffering from renal failure herself since 2015, Hampton had long ago abandoned the idea of pursuing a lawsuit — with the understanding that from a legal perspective, it was simply too late.

‘After I knew that it was a two-year limit for Alabama and I was still here, I was saying that my options were gone because I didn’t file immediately then,’ Hampton said. 

The ‘two-year limit’ to which Hampton was referring is known as a ‘statute of limitations,’ a state-level law that dictates the time frame under which victims of contamination can sue. Alabama has among the strictest statutes nationwide: Plaintiffs in the state can sue only within two years after they become sick, rather than after the cause of the illness is known.  

That’s because Alabama, as well as Michigan and Idaho, lack or have very limited versions of what’s called a ‘discovery rule’ when it comes to toxic exposures, setting them uniquely apart from most states. While statutes of limitations in many other states pose significant restrictions, most at least enable plaintiffs to delay suing until they have a clear causal link for their illness.

Without a discovery rule, experts told The Hill, plaintiffs seeking compensation face a nearly insurmountable hurdle, even though they may have never even heard of PFAS by the time the statute of limitations passes, let alone known they were being harmed by them.”…