Forever Chemicals: The Persistence of PFAS
In recent years, there has been increasing concern over PFAS (Per- and Polyfluorakyl Substances) materials, sometimes known as “Forever Chemicals,” because of their persistence in the environment and living things. These concerns have resulted in a large and growing number of lawsuits against companies which manufactured and sold such chemicals, or used them to manufacture other products, or released them into the environment. What are PFAS chemicals and how can they affect us?
PFAS, which are also known as perfluorinated chemicals, are synthetic chemicals which do not occur in nature. PFAS break down very slowly and can persist in the environment for decades. They are water soluble, so they can readily move through groundwater and the environment in general. They are not readily removed from the body, so they tend to accumulate, meaning that levels build up over time. Because of their ability to repel both water and oil, they were produced and used in large amounts.
Much of the PFAS contamination of ground water in this country has resulted from firefighting foams, but PFAS materials have been used in many other materials. PFAS materials have been used since at least the 1950s to manufacture products that resist heat, stains and water, such as Scotchgard, non-stick cookware, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, carpets, and clothing. In addition, fire fighting foams which contain PFAS have been widely used at airports, military bases, refineries, and fire fighting schools since the 1960s. Manufacturing plants, waste water treatment facilities, sites which use firefighting foam, and other
locations have been identified as sources of PFAS contamination throughout the country.
PFAS can be found in the human body in blood, and at lower levels in urine, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood. Most people in the United States and other industrialized countries have detectable amounts of these materials in their blood, even though U.S. manufactures phased out many PFAS compounds in the early 2000s. PFAS compounds may still be found in certain imported goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging coatings, rubber and plastics. Nonetheless, over time, blood levels should decrease in the general population in this country because of the phase outs by American manufacturers. Workers who manufactured, manipulated or used PFAS products, such as firefighters, may have higher concentrations of PFAS than the general population.
People who obtain their drinking water from aquifers and wells contaminated with PFAS may also have higher levels of PFAS. Although research is still ongoing, exposure to PFAS has been associated with various health consequences, including increased risk for certain cancers including testicular and kidney cancers, reduced chances of pregnancy, growth and behavioral effects in children, resistance to childhood vaccines, and increased cholesterol levels. More recently, experts have suggested that PFAS exposure might increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 and the severity of the disease when someone is infected by reducing the body’s immune response. Because of the health concerns related to PFAS exposure, the EPA has set a health advisory level of 70 PPT (parts per trillion) for PFAS compounds in drinking water, and some states have set lower levels. One part per trillion is about equal to one drop in 1,000 Olympic size swimming pools.
Private individuals may have a monetary claim for personal injuries against polluting companies if their water supply has been contaminated with PFAS chemicals and they have been diagnosed with an illness associated with these chemicals. Litigation in federal court in Southern Ohio related to PFAS contamination from DuPont’s plant near Parkersburg, West Virginia has resulted in several verdicts for testicular and kidney cancer.
Even if private individuals have not yet developed a PFAS related disease, they may be entitled to compensation for the costs of medical monitoring to detect such diseases if and when they do develop, emotional distress, annoyance and inconvenience, reduced property values, or the costs of obtaining other sources of water. The law determining what kinds of losses may be recovered can vary from state to state.
Local governments, including counties, towns and cities, and public water districts, as well as private water companies, may also have claims for upgrading their water filtration systems or obtaining other sources of water. According to a 2018 report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), as many as 1,500 drinking water systems across the country serving about 110 million customers may have PFAS contamination. Such contamination has resulted in much litigation, including a lawsuit by the Attorney General of Minnesota and other state officials against 3M which resulted in a court approved settlement of $850 million.
If you believe that you may have a claim, please contact us at 304-347-5050 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free) for a free initial consultation. You may also contact us through our website at www.jfhumphreys.com.
CDC National Biomonitoring Program, Per-and Polufluorinated Substances (PFAS) Sheet, https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html
Greg Barnes, North Carolina Health News, Research suggests link between PFAS contamination and the coronavirus (originally published July 13, 2020), https://portcitydaily.com/local-news/2020/07/25/research-suggests-link-between-
Rhode Island Department of Health, PFAS Contamination of Water,
Chris Stewart, Potentially Harmful Chemicals Detected since March in the Treated Water Leaving a Dayton Plant, Dayton Daily News, 11/8/18
Bill Walker, EWG, Update: Mapping the Expanding PFAS Crisis, https://www.ewg.org/research/update-mapping-expanding-pfas-crisis (updated 7/30/18)
ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), What are the health effects of PFAS?