The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to reduce six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are a notorious class of toxic compounds that have garnered widespread concern. Studies have linked PFAS to many health problems, including cancer, immune system dysfunction, and developmental issues.
These chemicals are found in several products, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, food packaging, and stain-resistant fabrics, leading to widespread contamination. Firefighting foam lawsuits and PFAS water contamination lawsuits have highlighted the need for stricter regulations and the importance of holding companies accountable for their role in this environmental and public health crisis.
The History of PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals used extensively since the 1940s. The 3M Company was the first to manufacture PFAS in the 1930s for nonstick and waterproof coatings. PFAS have since expanded to various products due to their heat, stain, and water resistance. Everyday items, such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain and water-resistant clothing, and cleaning products, contain PFAS.
PFAS do not break down easily and can persist in the environment and the human body for decades. Additionally, they can bioaccumulate, meaning these chemicals build up in living organisms over time. Scientists have nicknamed PFAS “forever chemicals” since they are very challenging to clean up and remove.
PFAS: A Public Health Hazard
It is nearly impossible to entirely avoid exposure to PFAS because these harmful chemicals are so pervasive. Common sources of PFAS exposure are contaminated drinking water, food, soil, and consumer products such as carpets, clothing, and cosmetics. Even breastfeeding, one of the most crucial periods of early childhood development, has also been identified as a potential source of exposure to PFAS.
Individuals exposed to PFAS may develop cancer, liver and thyroid damage, birth defects, immune system disorders, and infertility. Given the severe health risks related to PFAS exposure, the EPA has proposed new regulations for PFAS in drinking water.
Lawsuits concerning “forever chemicals” have been steadily growing. As more evidence of the long-lasting health effects of PFAS has become available, more people are stepping forward. PFAS are at the center of firefighting foam lawsuits and PFAS water contamination lawsuits nationwide.
Firefighters, service members, and civilians exposed to PFAS in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) are filing claims against manufacturers like 3M and DuPont. AFFF is a fire suppressant that can rapidly extinguish petroleum-based fires. Manufacturers have added PFAS to firefighting foam so the foam can cover a large area and cool the fire. PFAS in firefighting foam increase the risk of firefighters developing cancer or other health problems. However, firefighting foam can impact civilians because these chemicals can easily leach into soil and groundwater, contaminating water supplies.
States, including Maryland, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and California, have filed PFAS water contamination lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers for allegedly polluting waterways and water systems. These states have reportedly spent millions attempting to rectify the extensive PFAS contamination that has jeopardized the health of citizens and natural resources.
EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Standards for PFAS
The EPA hopes to establish enforceable levels of PFAS through its National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR). Creating maximum contaminant levels for PFAS will improve water quality and protect the health and lives of the public. Scientists have identified more than 9,000 PFAS, but the NPDWR focuses on six:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
- Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX Chemicals), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
- Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS)
Below is the EPA’s chart regarding the maximum contaminant level goals and the proposed enforceable levels.
|Type of PFAS||EPA Maximum Level Goal||Proposed Enforceable Levels|
|PFOA||0||4.0 parts per trillion (ppt)|
|PFNA||1.0 (unitless)||1.0 (unitless)|
|GenX Chemicals||1.0 (unitless)||1.0|
The EPA also noted it would also require public water systems to:
- Monitor for these PFAS
- Notify the public of the levels of these PFAS
- Reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the proposed standards
The EPA hopes to finalize the PFAS regulation by the end of 2023.