What are PFAS and health impacts?
Often called “forever chemicals,” perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are part of a group of chemicals referred to as PFAS, which are a growing source of concern for public agencies, businesses, individuals, and communities — and increasingly the subject of federal legislation and nationwide litigation. These synthetic chemicals were introduced in the 1940s. PFAS persist in the environment, drinking water, and the human body for extended periods of time, and prolonged exposure to PFAS can have serious negative health effects, such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system dysfunction, and elevated cholesterol levels, and increases the risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
What are the sources?
Common sources of exposure to PFAS include military bases, airports, firefighting foam, food packaging, nonstick cookware, stain-repellant fabrics and upholstery, furniture, carpets, pesticides, compost, artificial turf, manufacturing processes, and drinking water. The PFAS in these items are found in landfills, groundwater, drinking water, wastewater treatment plants, wastewater sludge, and biosolids — and contaminate your facilities.
What is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doing and how does it affect you?
On March 14, 2023, the EPA announced the proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six types of PFAS at 4 parts per trillion or less — and noted that no amount of PFAS is safe. The proposed rule sets maximum contaminant levels and will require public water system operators to:
- Monitor for these PFAS;
- Notify the public of the levels of PFAS present in drinking water; and
- Reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the proposed standards.
It is anticipated that PFAS will be designated a hazardous waste. Additional regulations are likely to be issued for groundwater, and these regulations will require further action by local agencies to remediate any contamination, which will be a very costly undertaking.
Why is remediation so expensive?
The technology exists to remove PFAS from the water supply, but it is not in place, and it is extremely expensive to implement. These treatment methods require advanced system upgrades that will cost public utilities millions of dollars. Local officials and water agencies are grappling with how to pay for the high cost of cleanup, which also involves disposing of the extracted PFAS in special landfills designed to contain the dangerous chemicals.
Why should you be concerned?
As a public official, it is your responsibility to protect public health and the environment, act as a steward of public funds, and manage legal liability for your jurisdiction. Your constituents look to you to ensure that their drinking water is clean and safe and that their community is not contaminated by toxic chemicals. The public is largely unaware of the risks associated with PFAS exposure, but once the public learns about this situation and the EPA issues additional regulations, residents and business owners in your jurisdiction will look to you for answers and expect you to do something to protect them, their families, the community, and the environment.
What can you do, and why now?
You can take several proactive steps now to protect your community and ensure that PFAS contamination is remediated:
- Conduct non-invasive testing and sampling to better understand the extent of the contamination in your jurisdiction;
- Identify the sources of PFAS contamination; and
- Develop a strategy for securing reimbursement of remediation costs, ongoing monitoring costs, and other mandated expenses.
You can do this by holding those responsible accountable for the contamination. This includes taking legal action to:
- Recover the costs of cleanup;
- Prevent future occurrences of PFAS contamination; and
- Preclude the possibility of an ongoing cycle of litigation needed to address the hazards and costs of such contamination.
Currently, a type of litigation known as multi-district litigation (MDL) has been filed in federal court in South Carolina for PFAS water contamination and the injuries caused by PFAS. Among the thousands of cases on file in this MDL, the plaintiffs include individuals, public entities, and private entities. More than 40 defendants have been sued in this litigation to ensure that all PFAS manufacturers will be held accountable for the harm they caused.
It’s critically important to act now, because prompt action is the key to securing reimbursement from the entities responsible for PFAS contamination in your jurisdiction. As outside counsel, we can assist with all of these steps, and we can help educate the public about your proactive approach and raise awareness of the dangers of PFAS.
We also understand the budgetary/resource constraints and time pressures on public agency staff, and we can support your efficient use of public resources by relieving your staff of the significant workload burdens associated with litigation.
How do you get started?
Contact us for answers to your PFAS-related questions and assistance in pursuing reimbursement from those responsible for this toxic contamination in your jurisdiction. We specialize in environmental litigation and have expertise in the complex legal issues related to addressing and litigating PFAS. Our team includes highly skilled experts in PFAS sampling, testing, analysis, and remediation, with extensive experience working with public agencies.