By Napoli Shkolnik Law and Christina Grube, MTN Correspondent
(MASS TORT NEWS) A recent study performed by the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology found that most rainwater to be contaminated with the manmade forever-chemicals Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (collectively “PFAS”), which exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) clean drinking water standards, Danish drinking water limit and the Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water.
The research team, hailing from the University of Stockholm, published a news release in which head researcher Ian Cousins said that “Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink.”
“Although in the industrial world we don’t often drink [unfiltered] rainwater,” continued Cousins, “many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink and it supplies many of our drinking water sources.”
Not only do the chemicals’ resistance to heat make the traditional method of boiling water for sanitation useless, but currently no state or federal statutes require water bottle manufacturers to test their water sources for PFAS. Researchers also note concerns that this type of contamination “leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated,” an international concern.
Commercial production and use of PFAS began in the 1940s and quickly gained popularity for the chemical’s ability to repel grease, oil, water, and heat, increasing product durability. Popular products containing PFAS include non-stick kitchen items, food packaging materials, water and stain repellent fabrics and carpets, makeup, body lotions, cleaning solutions, paints, and fire-fighting foam, to name a few.
Though the full effect of PFAS on humans and animals remains in-question, the EPA confirmed the international presence of PFAS in the air, water, and soil, as well as in the blood of humans, animals, and aquatic life. A 2011 study published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that “In the U.S. alone, over 95% of adolescents and adults have measurable serum levels of PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA [collectively defined as PFAS], which may reflect current or historic exposures.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (“CDC”) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry posted research potentially linking PFAS exposure to multiple serious health conditions in humans, including: increased cholesterol levels in adults, decreased vaccine response in children; changes in liver enzymes, decrease in infant birth weights, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women; and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer in men.
Litigation against 3M, one of the biggest manufacturers of PFAS, has gained the attention of the mass tort community. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated around 100 of claims from municipal water treatment and distribution centers in MDL No. 2873, with thousands more still pending.
Utilities Director for the City of Zephyrhills, FL John Bostic gave MTN insight on how the emergence of PFAS has changed their water treatment system. The chemicals spurred an increase in groundwater and well samples, causing one well site to close down entirely. “This additional work has cost the city over $250,000 and will continue for an unknown period of time,” said Bostic.
Dubbed as “forever chemicals,” PFAS stay in human and animal systems and build with each exposure, subsequently increasing the chance of developing health conditions. Though studies continually highlight the devastating effects of PFAS on humans and the natural world, certain companies continue regulated production of “replacement” PFAS chemicals referred to as GenX. However a 2020 study shows that GenX still puts users at risk for cancer. The EPA reported the supposed PFAS replacement to be twice as toxic to humans as PFOA, one of the original PFAS chemicals.