On June 22, chemical giant 3M announced that it had resolved claims brought by cities and towns across the United States for contamination of their drinking water by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS. If the settlement is approved by a judge, 3M will pay $10.3 billion over the course of 13 years to help cities, counties and other entities test for and remove PFAS from their drinking water. D3M joins three other major chemical manufacturers Chemours, DuPont and Corteva that had signed up to pay $1.19 billion into a fund to remove PFAS from public drinking water systems. These settlements may, however, be just a drop in the proverbial bucket.
PFAS are “forever chemicals.” They can accumulate in the human body and persist in the environment for decades without breaking down, posing continuous risks to human By Vineet Dubey “Forever chemicals” shouldn’t be hidden FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2023 PERSPECTIVE health. Exposure to PFAS can occur through skin contact, inhalation or ingestion. The synthetic chemicals have been linked to liver damage, developmental issues, reduced immune function and cancer. And the scary fact is that more than 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in their tap water on a daily basis. A study released June 5 by the U.S. Geological Survey reported that drinking water from nearly half of U.S. faucets likely contains PFAS. Essentially, nearly all Americans, including newborns, carry PFAS in their blood-stream.
PFAS show up in a range of consumer goods with which con- sumers are regularly in contact. They are commonly used in prod- ucts designed to be waterproof or heat- and stain-resistant, including non-stick cookware, clothing and a multitude of children’s products. On March 29, the EPA issued a notice of rulemaking to move to- ward zero PFAS in drinking water. The proposed rule, which is ex- pected to be finalized later this Reprinted with permission from the Daily Journal. ©2023 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved. Reprinted by ReprintPros 949-702-5390. year or early 2024, would establish acceptable levels for six common PFAS chemicals, but measurements would be in parts per trillion. The cost of testing at those levels is ex- pected to be in the billions of dollars, well out of reach of small and underresourced communities. The EPA issued a PFAS strategic roadmap.
In the meantime, California – in typical cutting-edge fashion – began banning PFAS from food packag- ing effective Jan. 1, 2023. A ban on PFAS in new children’s products marketed and sold in the state – AB 652 – went into effect July 1, 2023, but exempts electronic prod- ucts, medical devices, and internal components of children’s products that don’t come into contact with mouths and skin. Another ban, on PFAS in textile articles under AB 1817, will take effect Jan. 1, 2025. So where does this leave Califor- nia consumers? Thanks to the new laws, children may not be sleeping on PFAS-redolent beds or wearing PFAS-laden garments, but they may still be drinking PFAS-contaminated water and eating food prepared in PFAS-treated cookware. The resi- dual chemicals will stay in their systems for years or maybe even decades. Consumers reading news stories about PFAS in drinking water may not fully understand or appreciate their ongoing exposure to these dangerous products.
Beginning in 2025, AB 1817 will prohibit the manufacture, distribution, sale or offer of textile articles containing PFAS. This means sales of the items containing PFAS will be illegal in California. But in the meantime, many consumer goods sit on store shelves and are purchased by unsuspecting consumers. The children’s toys, garments and duffle bags containing PFAS should be fairly easy to reengineer. Water systems will be far more difficult hence the staggeringly high settlement amounts from 3M and others. EPA guidelines call for testing in parts per trillion, an exponential level of laboratory testing that is beyond the financial and operational means of most public utilities. Orange County, California has estimated that the infrastructure needed to lower the levels of PFAS in its drinking water could cost $1 billion. A 2021 study reported that Brunswick County, N.C., spent nearly $100 million after extensive PFAS contamination was found in the Cape Fear watershed, and was still incurring about $2.9 million annually in expenses. Communities with limited resources will be hardest hit by the EPA’s new rule.
Ultimately, no level of PFAS is safe for humans. A 2022 study found the costs of treating diseases attributable to PFAS exposure to be as high as $62.6 billion. The EPA estimates that lowering PFAS levels in drinking water would result in an annual benefit of $533 million in improved cardiovascular health, $300 million in reduced renal cell carcinoma and $178 million from the reduction of low-weight births across the United States.
It will be years before PFAS are appropriately regulated and reduced in consumer products and water supplies. In the meantime, chemical companies, manufacturers and vendors must act responsibly. This includes testing products for PFAS, taking steps to limit levels and harmful exposure, and including conspicuous warnings on all products containing any levels of PFAS.