Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have garnered significant attention in the environmental world over the past four years. And for good reason – they do not break down in the environment, bioaccumulate in humans and animals, and have been linked to numerous health risks such as kidney and testicular cancer, affecting the immune system, and interfering with the body’s natural hormones. Also known as “forever chemicals,” they pose a unique hazard to public health because they are used in a variety of consumer products and are found everywhere in the environment.
PFAS are a particular threat to our nation’s drinking water. That’s because conventional water treatment does not remove PFAS. Instead, expensive filtration systems are required to sufficiently treat drinking water before it is sold to the public. PFAS currently are not regulated, but that can change soon based on new regulations being considered by governmental authorities across the world.
In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a preliminary decision to regulate the two most common PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, in drinking water. The agency is currently seeking public comments on this decision as well as potential regulatory approaches for other PFAS, which number in the thousands. The agency also issued a supplementary proposal to ensure that these chemicals could not be imported into the United States without notification and review under the Toxic Substances Control Act. It could take years for regulations to be enacted; however, the United States is moving in the right direction.
Congress has also been pressed into action with the Senate’s environment panel pushing a major water bill directing the EPA to develop a national drinking water standard for PFAS. Supporters attached similar language to the 2020 defense authorization bill last year, only to have it removed in the House-Senate negotiations.
Similar efforts are underway in Europe. Authorities in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have agreed to prepare a joint restriction proposal covering all PFAS seeking details on any alternatives or technical replacements for the chemicals and existing efforts to phase out or substitute them. It could take two years for the proposal to be finalized, which will then move to the agencies’ scientific committees for opinion-making.
Until regulations and legislation are passed to protect our nation’s drinking water, litigation has been the most common way to hold polluters accountable. One industry that relies heavily on PFAS is the carpet manufacturing industry which uses the chemicals to impart water-, stain- and soil-resistance to its flooring products.
Our firm, along with Roger H. Bedford of Roger Bedford & Associates, has filed lawsuits on behalf of the water systems in Gadsden and Centre, Alabama. These complaints allege that carpet and textile companies, manufacturers, and chemical suppliers located upstream in Dalton, Georgia, are responsible for contaminating the Coosa River and Weiss Lake. The lawsuits were filed to ensure that these entities, not ratepayers in Gadsden and Centre, would pay to decontaminate their drinking water.
Beasley Allen lawyers are investigating other PFC contamination cases. If you have any questions about this subject, contact Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton or Ryan Kral, lawyers in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section.
Source: Bloomberg Law