Environmentalists Call for Tougher State Restrictions on PFAS Use, Amid Growing Concerns Over Toxic Water Contamination

The groups indicate some states are already making progress in avoiding additional PFAS water contamination, with Maine planning to ban the chemicals by 2030.

States should take a stronger role in preventing water sources from becoming contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to several consumer advocacy and environmental protection groups.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. They are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body, and there is growing evidence linking exposure to a myriad of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.

While most of the attention on the chemicals has focused on the use in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in widespread water contamination around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, PFAS are also found in a number of consumer products, including food containers, bottles and wrappers.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products have faced a thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers in recent years, seeking billions in damages.

While a PFAs water contamination settlement agreement has been proposed to resolve those cases, some cities have expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, and there has been little progress reducing the risk of further contamination in the future.

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During a webinar held on November 15, experts from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Environment America, and the Southern Environmental Law Center urged states to impose tougher restrictions and enforcement actions to prevent manufacturing facilities, chemical plants, military bases and other sources of PFAS from releasing the chemicals into the nation’s waters.

The panel called for states to pursue legislative options, increased funding, and increased oversight, saying that the surest way to prevent PFAS water contamination is to prevent it from being discharged into drinking water sources in the first place.

“We need to completely phase out PFAS use and stop its use in manufacturing, but the shift won’t happen overnight,” a PIRG press release states. “For the near term, industries still using PFAS should not be dumping them into our waterways, sending them to sewage treatment plants, or releasing them in stormwater.”

The group noted that some states have made “significant progress” on putting PFAS restrictions in place. In 2021, Maine put in place a ban on the use of all PFAS chemicals in products used in that state,  designed to go into effect by 2030. Other states have passed laws restricting its use in certain products, such as firefighting foam and food packaging. However, greater efforts are required throughout the United States to protect individuals in communities nationwide.

Individual Injury PFAS Lawsuits

A growing number of PFAS cancer lawsuits now being pursued against chemical manufacturers throughout the U.S. may just be the tip of a litigation iceberg, as more information is learned about the long-term health risks associated with exposure to the toxic chemicals. However, by the time liability concerns impact the release of PFAS into the environment, it will be too late for many Americans.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted an assessment of PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, indicating 24 installations, with a total population of 175,000, exposed residents to PFAS in drinking water. However, some environmental groups have contested that number, saying at least 116 military instillations are contaminated, exposing more than 640,000 residents to toxic AFFF and PFAS.

Although the manufacturers have reached proposed settlement over damages sustained by local water suppliers, who have been left with the costs associated with cleaning up the toxic chemicals, there have been no settlements in PFAS injury lawsuits brought by individuals exposed to the chemicals through drinking water, or firefighters directly exposed through AFFF foam.

Earlier this year, Judge Gergel directed the lawyers involved in the litigation to select a group of 28 representative personal injury claims for an AFFF injury bellwether pool, involving plaintiffs who say they were exposed to chemicals that contaminated drinking water.

However, the first cases are unlikely to go before a jury for several years. In addition, the outcome of these claims will not have any binding impact on the other individual lawsuits, although they will be closely watched and may impact how much manufacturers may pay to settle lawsuits brought by other plaintiffs.


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