While many studies are being conducted to prove that PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are carcinogenic, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) is filing a class-action lawsuit against multiple chemical manufactures for allegedly contaminating waters with PFAS. The NRWA is a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of all water and wastewater professionals that serve small communities across the United States. In this case, compensation from the lawsuit will be used for testing, treatments, and damages the PFAS water contamination is causing. At this time, the current PFAS manufacturers being sued for water contamination include:
- 3M Company
- Tyco Fire Products L.P.
- National Foam Inc
- Buckeye Fire Protection
- Inc. Du Pont De Nemours Inc.
- The Chemours Company
These companies allegedly developed, marketed, and sold, products containing PFAS which is known for being a possible human carcinogen. Many people and lawyers representing the case believe that the companies knew about the risks of PFAS. As such, it should not be NRWA member’s responsibility to resolve the repercussions of the contamination.
Furthermore, PFAS has been studied across the country by many to test its toxicity level. Products containing PFAS have sparked many lawsuits against companies for allegedly causing health hazards to people and the environment.
What is PFAS?
PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a manmade chemical made up of multiple groups of manufactured chemicals. The chemical compound is water-soluble and does not breakdown efficiently in the environment. PFAS is used to make all different kinds of products, such as items used daily. Common things that may contain PFAS include:
- Food: packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
- Commercial household products: including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
- Workplace: including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
- Drinking water: typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
- Living organisms: such as fish, animals, and humans, where PFAS could build up and persist over time.
Is PFAS Dangerous to People?
There are about 5000 different types of PFAS which means there is a lot to study when it comes to their harmful properties. There is evidence that exposure to certain types of PFAS can lead to serious health concerns in people. Whether people are exposed through eating, drinking, or absorbed through the skin, it is possible they could be damaging to their health. In December 2019, the FDA issued a statement that PFAS contains toxic elements and may lead to health concerns for humans.
Studies show some dangerous side effects from certain types of PFAS such as:
- Cause developmental effects in infants
- Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- Increase a woman’s blood pressure during pregnancy
- Interfere with the body’s natural hormones
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Affect the immune system
- Increase the risk of cancer
- Birth Defects
- Liver damage
- Increased risk of thyroid disease & asthma
PFAS has also been under investigation by many parties to test the toxicity levels. In March of 2020, PFAS was studied for being a possible human carcinogen as the chemical compound had similar characteristics to cancer-causing chemicals. Possible cancer developed from exposure to PFAS include:
Additionally, In March 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans issued a public health statement, in which they warned veterans about their possible exposure to PFAS and how it can negatively affect their health. Although PFAS is found in everyday products, there is currently no legal limit on the amount of PFAS a product can contain without it being dangerous. However, the EPA has stated that they are working on setting a safety limit for the level of PFAS in drinking water and in the soil. There is no set date on when this will be enacted but it is estimated to be set sometime in 2020.
Is PFAS Dangerous to the Environment?
Because PFAS are in many regular household products, they can enter the environment very easily through production or waste streams. If you use PFAS products in the environment, there is a chance it will absorb into waterways, trees, soil, crops, or sewers and negatively affect the habitat around it. Because of this, there is a higher chance for PFAS to cause water contamination.
Because PFAS is water-soluble, it does not break down efficiently in the environment, making it more prone to easy absorption of the chemical. The chemical is resistant to water, oil, and heat and because of this it can expand faster and be difficult to get rid of. Due to this resistance, professionals have labeled PFAS as “forever chemicals” which are likely to stay in the human body and environment for years or decades. According to Linda Birnbaum, the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, “We’re finding them contaminating many rivers, many lakes, many drinking water supplies”.
Are There Other Lawsuits?
Although the NRWA is filing a lawsuit against the makers of PFAS for water contamination, people are suing the manufacturers for other reasons. The unfortunate side effects of certain types of PFAS are causing many people and organizations to file lawsuits against makers of the products with dangerous levels of the alleged carcinogenic types of PFAS. One of the largest lawsuits involving PFAS would be the firefighting foam lawsuits (AFFF) that are affecting many workers.
Firefighters work with a product called Aqueous Film Forming Foam or AFFF which is a foam that suppresses Class A and Class B fires. Firefighters have been using it for over 50 years. But when in use, it inevitably gets onto the person causing absorption through the skin. AFFF’s main active ingredients are the types of PFAS that are allegedly causing cancer and many companies are manufacturing them. Many parties are filing lawsuits against manufacturers of AFFF for allegedly causing health issues and cancers. Furthermore, because there are so many lawsuits, the cases have been consolidated into MDL litigation. The MDL is now in the United States District Court of South Carolina. In this case, the manufacturers that are in the MDL AFFF lawsuit include:
- 3M Company
- Buckeye Fire Equipment Company
- Inc., Chemours Company FC
- Inc. Du Pont De Nemours Inc.
- Dynax Corporation
- Kidde-Fenwal, Inc.
- National Foam, Inc.
- Tyco Fire Products