PFAS AND AMERICA’S WATER SUPPLY “THE FOREVER CHEMICAL IS HERE TO STAY”
A MASS TORT NEWS WHITE PAPER
Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in tap water across the country-
Who knew and when?
Environmental testing shows a class of extremely toxic chemicals called PFAS/PFOS are in the US water supply. Why has the public not been informed?
By Mark A. York
September 22, 2020
“You may not recognize the name PFAS, short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, but you likely come into contact with it regularly, maybe multiple times a day. You might even consume it.” It is a silent chemical lurking in many areas of the USA, in drinking water, consumer products, and many other areas that are just know being brought to the attention of the US public.
The real issue is this, PFAS/PFOS and its affiliated chemical family, never go away – hence the name “The Forever Chemical” and it’s here to stay in America and around the world.
A recent US EPA advisory states: To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, EPA has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion. (see full EPA PFAS link below), “this equates to 3.5 drops in an Olympic sized swimming pool.”
Because these are only health advisories, water providers and others affected are left with the responsibility-but not the funding-to monitor their water sources in order to treat and remediate for contaminants. Luckily, a handful of states have already taken affirmative actions to implement their own binding regulatory oversight.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS/PFOA are a large, complex, and ever-expanding group of manufactured chemicals that are widely used to make various types of everyday products. For example, they keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective. PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and military.
PFOA was produced by eight major U.S. companies, including: Arkema, Asahi, Ciba, Clariant, Daikin, DuPont, 3M/Dyneon, Solvay, and Solexis. PFOS was solely produced by one company in the United States: 3M Company. Although these manufacturers agreed to phase-out AFFF containing PFAS several years ago, recent testing has led to the discovery of widespread contamination in drinking water supplies in many states.
PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest, these chemicals do not degrade in the environment. In fact, scientists are unable to estimate an environmental half-life for PFAS, which is the amount of time it takes 50% of the chemical to disappear.
Research on two kinds of PFAS forms the basis of our scientific understanding about this group of chemicals. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were manufactured for the longest time, are the most widespread in the environment, and are the most well-studied. Although these two compounds are no longer made in the United States, chemical manufacturers have replaced them with alternative PFAS, such as GenX.
The most blatant example of the dangers of PFAS/PFOS, is the spread of cancer among firefighters, due to exposure to the PFAS chemicals in fire fighting foam, commonly designated as AFFF, which is a major source of PFAS contamination. Perhaps say, due to the chemical nature of PFOA and PFOS as a surfactant, it was able to be mixed with water and sprayed as foam on fires, putting a film on the fire to separate oxygen from the fuel surface, and therefore able to stop the chemical reaction from burning. This firefighting foam, or Aqueous Film Forming Foam (“AFFF”) was widely used particularly at municipal airports and military bases for training purposes and to combat jet fuel spills. The foam seeped through the soil at these sites and, through migration and runoff, leached into underground aquifers and surface water bodies used for drinking water.
Since 2016, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of AFFF on behalf of public and private water providers. One such manufacturer, 3M, was warned by its own environmental specialist-merely two decades ago-of the insidious toxic nature of PFAS. In late 2018, the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ordered that all AFFF cases be consolidated before Judge Richard Gergel of the District of South Carolina. In Re: Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2:18-mn-2873-RMG). Recently, Paul J. Napoli was appointed as Plaintiffs’ Co-Lead Counsel in the above litigation. Napoli is with the firm of Napoli Shkolnick, PLLC.
Another firm actively involved in the firefighter foam litigation is Stag Liuzza,and founding partner Michael Stag, in New Orleans, who is also part of the AFFF MDL leadership and very active in the fire fighter foam docket. Mike has previously provided details on the AFFF docket to Mass Tort News, excerpts from that article are located in this article on the AFFF MDL firefighter claims further below.
Link to federal AFFF litigation in US District Court, South Carolina: https://www.scd.uscourts.gov/mdl-2873/
How Are People Exposed to PFAS?
These widespread, manmade chemicals have leached into our soil, air, and water. People are most likely exposed to these chemicals by consuming PFAS-contaminated water or food, using products made with PFAS, or breathing air containing PFAS. More research is needed to fully understand all sources of exposure, and if and how they cause health problems.
One report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans.
This is because PFAS are readily absorbed after consumption or inhalation and can accumulate in the body. Other studies have shown that PFOA can be transferred from pregnant women to their unborn children and has been found in breast milk. A more recent NHANES report suggested a reduction in blood levels of PFOS and PFOA since their removal from consumer products in the early 2000s. However, the number of new PFAS chemicals appear to be increasing, and exposure is difficult to assess.
Put simply: PFAS, a class of more than 4,000 different chemicals, is everywhere. It turns up in everything from household items to fast food wrappers. It’s even been found in our blood. And new research published this week by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), shows it’s prevalent in tap water as well.
The public and policymakers are starting to take notice, including those in many states. For example, you may want to add that NYS adopted 10 ppt for PFOA and PFOS individually and also 1 ppb for 1-4iodxane. These are the strictest drinking water standards codified into law. They’re measured in ppt because of the serious toxicity that these chemicals play in the environment and to public health (pfoa – pfas). Vermont’s PFOA health advisory is 20 ppt, which is much stronger than that of the EPA. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for example approved maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS in drinking water
In December 2018, a military spending bill included new PFAS regulations, though environmentalists say the included measures didn’t do enough to meaningfully address contamination. Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution (H.R. 535) that will be voted on in the Senate later this year. And in September, the movie Dark Waters offered a fictional take on a 2016 New York Times article about how corporate lawyer Rob Bilott took on DuPont, one of the largest polluters of PFAS.
“If we’re comparing what we know about these chemicals to lead, then I can say lead is more dangerous. If we compare what we know now with what we knew about lead 50 years ago, it’s hard to say which will win,” says Cindy Hu, a Harvard data scientist who was part of a research team that, in 2016, found at least six million Americans were drinking PFAS-contaminated drinking water that exceeded EPA recommendations.
One of the most significant exposure points are current and former military bases across the country. The Department of Defense and US National Guard have created a PFAS/PFOS Task force to address the problem at what is now known to be contamination at over 600 bases.
See National Guard PFAS link: https://www.ngaus.org/about-ngaus/newsroom/pfas-report-shows-more-potential-contaminations
What and Where is PFAS?
PFAS has been used in commercial products since the 1940s. It’s created by joining carbon and fluorine, one of the strongest bonds that can be made in organic chemistry. It’s that bond that’s at the root of why PFAS chemicals are used to make everyday items resistant to moisture, heat, and stains. Some of the most commonly used PFAS chemicals, like PFOS and PFOA (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid) have long half-lives, earning them the moniker “the forever chemical.”
In tests of 44 different taps in 31 states, studies found that 43 exceeded a limit they deem safe by their own standards. The Environmental Working Group estimates that 1,500 drinking water systems across the country may be contaminated, affecting 110 million Americans. (Poisoning the Well : Toxic Firefighting Foam Has Contaminated U.S. Drinking Water (The Intercept, December 2015). Available at: https://theintercept.com/2015/12/16/toxic-firefighting-foam-has-contaminated-u-s-drinking-water-with-pfcs/
The public comes into contact with PFAS through the things we buy like furniture and clothing, but according to the EPA, most drinking water contamination results from living near facilities that handle PFAS, like manufacturing plants or wastewater treatment facilities. The average household water filter isn’t capable of removing PFAS from the tap.
What is the risk?
Wilbur Earl Tennant, a farmer in Parkersburg, West Virginia, lost more than a hundred cattle and thought the nearby DuPont manufacturing plant poisoning his ground and water. Litigation (C-8 MDL 2433) against the company settled in 2017, which revealed that DuPont was dumping PFOA, the type of PFAS used in non-stick cookware and rainproof coats, into a dump adjacent to Tennant’s farm. Here is the link to the C-8 MDL 2433 cited above https://www.ohsd.uscourts.gov/multidistrict-litigation-2433.
The lawsuit prompted an 852-page report released by the CDC in 2018 that showed the EPA overestimated the amount of PFAS chemicals people could safely consume. The study showed a link between 14 different PFAS chemicals and cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease, and liver damage. Other studies on PFAS have linked consumption to high cholesterol and nerve disorders. In addition to these, mounting scientific research has linked PFC-exposure with immune system health effects as well as testicular and kidney cancer.
While those living adjacent to major manufacturers that use PFAS are more at risk, the products made from various PFAS chemicals are so ubiquitous—cleaning products, non-stick pans, rainproof coats, stain resistant carpet, food packaging—that just about everyone has it in their bodies. Regular testing conducted by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finds it present in nearly every blood sample they take.
Research and testing performed by 3M and DuPont indicated that PFAS materials, because of their unique chemical structure, persist in the environment essentially unaltered and accumulate in people’s blood. Yet, both companies downplayed, avoided, and reframed research conclusions about the chemicals it produced, leaving water providers and the communities they served in the dark about these potential risks.
3M: in April 2006, 3M agreed to pay a penalty of more than $1.5 million to EPA for its failure to disclose studies dating back decades that confirmed the potential hazards of these chemicals to public health and the environment, among other things.
Dupont: The company also failed to report that some of its exposed female employees had passed PFOA to the bloodstream of their unborn children.
Notably, levels of PFOS and PFOA have decreased since 1999, when the agency began sampling. That’s likely because they haven’t been manufactured in the U.S. since the early 2000s, though they can still be found in imported goods like textiles, carpets, and plastic. PFAS alternatives to PFOA and PFOS have also been linked to health complications. In a toxicity report of two popular replacements, the EPA found each could lead to kidney damage, immune system impairment, and reproductive issues.
What’s being done?
Chemicals found in tap water are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, which passed in 1974. However, a new chemical hasn’t been added to the list since 1996 because of an amendment that allowed the EPA, instead of Congress, to decide when to add a new chemical into its regulatory repertoire. The amendment also made it more difficult to prove that a chemical was irrefutably a human health threat. In December 2019, the agency submitted PFOS and PFOA for internal review where its regulatory fate is still being deliberated.
Although the EPA’s heath standard is only advisory, they have made it clear that they are taking the necessary steps to set enforceable limits for both PFOA and PFOS under their PFAS Action Plan. More importantly, many states either have or are considering much more stringent and mandatory Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) including California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. In New Jersey, an MCL of 13 ppt for PFOA was adopted. State Attorneys Generals, including in Minnesota and New York, have also sued to recover the costs of cleanup, drinking water remediation and Natural Resource Damages.
“The EPA has had PFOS and PFOA on their radar for quite a while. We have quite a bit of evidence to establish a drinking water standard, so it does point to how difficult it is for them to establish drinking water guidelines or phase out chemicals that cause harmful health effects,” says Laurel Schaider, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute.
The trigger for the current wave of litigation in the U.S. regarding PFAS came when in May 2016, the EPA issued Lifetime Health Advisories and Health Effects Support Documents for PFOA and PFOS recommending that exposure to PFOA and PFOS not exceed 70 parts per trillion in drinking water. While health advisories are non-regulatory, they reflect the EPA’s assessment of the best available peer-reviewed science.
Schaider isn’t optimistic that the House’s bill on PFAS will get enough votes to pass in the Senate, but she’s hopeful states will continue setting their own guidelines.
AFFF MDL 2873
The Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation MDL 2873 (“MDL-2873”) was created as a result of dozens of lawsuits filed against a variety of other manufacturers of AFFF based on allegations that the product harmed humans and contaminated groundwater. These lawsuits sought, amongst other things, compensatory damages and costs associated with monitoring for cancer and other medical problems. MDL-2873 will also help spur additional studies on how PFAS chemicals behave and how they impact human health and the environment. Not only will further studies help in the fight against AFFF manufacturers, but it will help drive much needed regulation and litigation for years to come.
The first firefighting foam was developed in 1902 by Russian engineer and chemist Aleksandr Loran. Loran was working in the oil and gas industry trying to find a substance to combat petroleum-based fires for which water is wholly ineffective. Loran’s solution was the first firefighting foam which was able to extinguish oil and other flammable liquids-based fires by blanketing and smothering them.
Through the years, multiple advancements were made in the firefighting foam sector. Beginning in the 1960’s, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in cooperation with the 3M Company began conducting research into the use of synthetic chemicals, namely Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), for use in firefighting foams as a more effective means of suppressing hydrocarbon fuel-based fires. The NRL utilized 3M’s Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA – used to make Teflon), also known as C8, and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS – the main component of Scotch Guard) to develop its Aqueous Film- Forming Foam (AFFF).
AFFF are a combination of fluorocarbons, surfactants, and solubilizers. The fluorochemical based surfactant in the NRL’s AFFF reduces the surface tension of water allowing the foam to form an aqueous film on the surface of the hydrocarbon fuel that (1) suppresses vapors, (2) deprives the fuel surface of oxygen, and (3) prevents evaporation and subsequent re-ignition of the fuel.
The NRL’s AFFF quickly extinguished fuel-based fires and prevented reignition once the fire had been put out. This synthetic foam has a low viscosity allowing it to spread across the surface of flammable liquids rapidly. Once the AFFF spreads across the flammable liquid, the fluorochemical-based surfactant reduces the surface tension of water and forms an aqueous film beneath the foam on the surface of the fuel. This film cools the liquid fuel and deprives it of oxygen, stopping the formation of flammable vapors and effectively extinguishing the fire while also preventing reignition. AFFF provided nearly instant fire knockdown which greatly helped in crash rescue firefighting. The Navy received a patent on its invention in 1966 and by the mid 1960’s the 3M Company was manufacturing AFFF for the military.
By the late 1960’s, the U.S. Navy required all of its vessels to carry AFFF. In the 1970’s the Department of Defense began using AFFF to fight fuel fires at all military installations. By the late 1970’s, the Navy- developed AFFF fire suppressant was not only in heavy use by the military, but was also used at more than 90 airports in the U.S. as well as in many civilian fire departments.
While 3M was the original manufacturer of the fluorochemical-based AFFF, other manufacturers later used telomer-based fluorochemical surfactants in their AFFF. In the mid-1970s an aqueous film-forming polar foam was developed which, in addition to hydrocarbon based fires, was also used to combat fires caused by water soluble solvents such as alcohol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, thinners and other flammable liquids These polar foams are referred to as alcohol-resistant (AR) foams.
Class B firefighting foams are used on Class B fires involving flammable or combustible fuels. Class A foams are for use on wildfires and other Class A combustibles such as wood and paper. The development of Class A foams came about in the 1980s in response to the needs for wild forest fire control. The surfactants used in Class A foams have an affinity for carbon causing the foam/water solution to penetrate into the wood of trees and other burning combustibles with greater efficiency.
AFFF IN USE
Firefighting foams are sold as a concentrate and are typically available in 5-gallon pails, 55-gallon drums, and 275-gallon totes. The concentrate is mixed with water, either manually or through an automated system, to form a foam that is applied to blanket a fire or flammable liquid. All types of firefighting foam concentrates are combined with water at specified ratios using an in-line eductor or other mixing device. The resulting foam solution can then be fed through either a nozzle-aspirated foam system (NAFS) or a compressed air foam system (CAFS). Both systems produce a finished foam that is a combination of water, air, and foam concentrate. Varying the ratios of these three ingredients affects the physical structure of the finished foam product. Fire trucks can be equipped with reservoirs to carry both foam and water. Often trucks also contain 5-gallon buckets of AFFF for emergency use.
AFFF HISTORICAL SOURCES
The military is the biggest user of firefighting foams in the U.S., comprising nearly 75% of the market according to estimates.1 The 3M Company after its initial work with the Naval Research Laboratory was the sole provider of AFFF to the military from approximately 1962 through 1982. From 1983 to 1988 both 3M and Ansul Inc. supplied the military with AFFF. The 3M Company was again the sole supplier to the military from 1989 to 2001, and Kidde National Foam has been the military supplier of AFFF since 2002.
A report estimated that municipal fire departments make up only 13% of the firefighting foam market, while petroleum-processors comprise 5% of the market.2 Other users of firefighting foam include aviation, ships, drilling platforms, and other petro-chemical manufacturers. From the 1970’s through the 2000’s the military, airports, the petrochemical industry, the oil and gas industry, and civilian fire departments were using AFFF on a regular basis. The military stockpiled millions of gallons of AFFF and it has been estimated that the average consumption was in the range of 6-12% per year.3 Thus the military alone consumed hundreds of thousands of gallons of AFFF per year.
Regrettably the rise of non-fluorinated AFFF replacements did not come to market until 2010. Furthermore, it was not until January of 2016, that the Department of Defense issued a policy requiring the Military Departments to (1) issue service-specific risk management procedures to prevent uncontrolled land-based AFFF releases during maintenance, testing, and training activities and (2) remove and properly dispose of PFOS-based AFFF from the local supplies for non-shipboard use where practical. While these directives were greatly welcomed, the military’s decades of use of AFFF combined with lax or nonexistent safety protocols have created an enormous burden on the environment and public health.
AFFF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
AFFF made by 3M prior to 2002 generated PFOS and PFOA as a breakdown product. Manufacturers of AFFF in the United States now use PFAS other than PFOS; however, existing stocks of PFOS-based AFFF remain in use. As noted above, PFOS and PFOA are part of a larger group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFOS and PFOA are the most widely studied of the PFAS chemicals because they are the two PFAS that have been produced in the largest amounts within the United States.4 PFOS and PFOA are human-made compounds that do not occur naturally in the environment.
PFOS and PFOA are extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to typical environmental degradation processes primarily because the chemical bond between the carbon and fluorine atoms is extremely strong and stable. This persistence has earned these synthetic substances the nickname “forever chemicals”. Not long after introducing these “forever chemicals” into regular use, the military and scientists within the 3M Company began to question the environmental impacts of AFFF.
In 1974, a Navy report asked whether AFFF alternatives ought to be considered for “environmental impact” reasons. One year later, 3M scientists were made aware that PFAS chemicals were bioaccumulating in the bodies of US citizens across the nation. In 1976, Navy scientists again proposed exploring alternatives to AFFF, citing environmental concerns. For more than five decades, PFAS have contaminated drinking water sources in the U.S. and around the world, presenting massive risks to public health. Studies have found PFOS and PFOA in the blood samples of the general human population and wildlife, indicating that exposure to the chemicals is widespread.5
Higher blood levels have been found in community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA. People exposed to PFOA in the workplace are also likely to have PFOA in blood serum at levels many times higher than the general public. Furthermore, the wide distribution of PFAS in organisms is strongly suggestive of the potential for bioaccumulation and/or bioconcentration.6
In 1978, another Navy report again identified environmental and public health risks posed by AFFF and noted the “difficulties obtaining adequate information” from 3M.7 At this point when the US Navy was questioning the health and environmental impacts of AFFF, 3M was finding PFAS chemicals at levels 1,000 times normal in the blood of its workers and in the flesh of fish surrounding its manufacturing plants.8 Despite the fact that 3M concluded that PFOA and PFOS “should be regarded as toxic,” 3M determined that the “risks should not be reported at this time.”
Additional animal studies conducted by 3M in 1978 and 1979 further confirmed the public health and environmental risks posed by PFOS and PFOA. It is not clear whether 3M disclosed these identified risks to the Navy or others, notwithstanding increasing contamination of blood levels and cancer rates among 3M workers.
By the very early 1980’s, the Department of Defense began investigating the environmental and health impacts of AFFF through their own animal studies. A 1981 study conducted by the Air Force found AFFF harmful to female rats and their pups, including low birth weights. Air Force Animal studies by the Air Force and Navy in 1983 and 1985 found that PFAS could damage cell growth.9
The Air Force identified firefighting foam as the suspected cause of animal and vegetation deaths near Peterson Air Force Base in 1991. As a result, the Air Force implemented policies to sequester AFFF at Peterson AFB. At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered the Fort Carson Army installation to replace the use of “hazardous” AFFF with “nonhazardous substitutes.” Five years later, the Navy started more seriously exploring non-fluorinated alternatives to AFFF. At this time the Army also began requiring soldiers to treat AFFF as a hazardous waste.
Despite the substantial evidence that AFFF was an environmental and public health threat for decades, it was not until 2000 that the EPA announced that “(f)ollowing negotiations between EPA and 3M, the company…announced that it will voluntarily phase out and find substitutes for PFOS”.10 Along with the announcement of the phase out of PFOS, it was revealed that a 3M animal study revealed significant health risks associated with PFOS exposure even at low doses. Following the announcement of the phaseout in 2000, the Department of Defense held a meeting at the Naval Research Laboratory to discuss AFFF environmental issues within the Department.11
In 2001, a Department of Defense memorandum by Curtis Bowling, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Force Protection, noted that PFOS was “persistent, bioaccumulating, and toxic.” More than a decade later, to prevent future releases to the environment, the DOD finally stopped land-based use of AFFF in training, testing and maintenance through a department wide policy issued in January 2016. The US Navy announced that it intended to remove, dispose, and replace legacy AFFF containing PFOS and/or PFOA once an environmentally suitable substitute is identified and certified to meet milspec requirements.
In 2017, the Army completed its PFOS/PFOA water sampling at 2,905 Army locations including 380 Army drinking water systems, both inside and outside the United States. At the same time, the U.S. Air Force completed enterprise-wide sampling of drinking water at all installations — stateside and overseas — to ensure drinking water supplies meet EPA guidelines. In 2019, the U.S Navy began investigating PFAS contamination by sampling wells around its bases.
In 2019, the Department of Defense announced a PFAS Task Force to deal with the rising problem of PFAS contamination at military installations across the country and overseas. The DOD identified 401 active and former installations in the U.S. where there appeared to be some level of PFOS/PFOA from defense activities. In addition to these installations, as of 2014, there were 664 current or former military fire- or crash-training sites, all of which are likely contaminated with PFAS chemicals.
To address the growing problems associated with the use of AFFF by fire fighters and PFAS contamination of groundwater, the U.S. Congress included a number of provisions in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to restrict PFAS use by the defense departments and prohibit the use of firefighting foams that contain PFAS in training. The law also requires the Department of Defense to begin testing the blood of military firefighters to determine the extent of their PFAS exposure.
For more than five decades, thousands of military and civilian fire fighters trained on AFFF containing PFOA and PFOS on a monthly or even weekly basis. In addition to the regular training exercises, military and civilian firefighters also used foam in live fire scenarios involving automobile accidents, plane crashes, industrial accidents, and other flammable liquid-based fires. Historically many civilian fire departments, airports, and military installations also had personnel using AFFF to clean vehicles. Fire fighters wore varying degrees of PPE in training and live fire use with AFFF, but there were no universal health and safety guidelines from the government or manufacturers.
Despite AFFF manufacturers’ long running knowledge of the considerable health effects relating to exposure to AFFF, military and civilian firefighters were generally not warned of these risks and were not provided with sufficient personal protective equipment. Thousands of firefighters have experienced various cancers and other negative health outcomes after years of exposure to AFFF.
HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH AFFF
The majority of research on the potential human health risks of PFAS are associated with oral (ingestion) exposure. Limited data exist on health effects associated with inhalation or dermal exposure to PFAS. Most available toxicity data are based on laboratory animal studies. There are also several human epidemiological studies of PFOA and PFOS. Exposure to some PFAS above certain levels may increase risk of adverse health effects.
The available epidemiological and animal studies(12) suggest links between PFAS exposure and several negative health outcomes including:
• Hepatic Effects (increased cholesterol, increased liver weight; hypertrophy);
• Cardiovascular Effects (pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia)’
• Endocrine Effects (thyroid disease); • Immune Effects (decreased vaccine response);
• Respiratory Effects (asthma, COPD, bronchitis);
• Reproductive Effects (decreased fertility);
• Skeletal Effects (osteoarthritis);
• Developmental Effects (decreased birth weight)
• Carcinogenic Effects (kidney, liver, testicular, prostate, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
 See ATSDR “Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls, Draft for Public Comment” (2018) found online at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp200.pdf
Under the EPA’s Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment (USEPA, 2005b), there is “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential” for PFOA.13 Similarly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies PFOA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.14 Higher PFOA serum levels may be associated with testicular, kidney, prostate, and ovarian cancers and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.15 Increases in prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers have been found in workers or in community members living near a PFOA facility.16
Animal studies for PFOA report developmental effects (survival, body weight changes, reduced ossification, delays in eye opening, altered puberty, and retarded mammary gland development), liver toxicity (hypertrophy, necrosis, and effects on the metabolism and deposition of dietary lipids), kidney toxicity (weight), immune effects, and cancer (liver, testicular, and pancreatic).17 The animal toxicity studies available for PFOA also demonstrate that the developing fetus is particularly sensitive to PFOA- induced toxicity. Human epidemiology data report associations between PFOA exposure and high cholesterol, increased liver enzymes, decreased vaccination response, thyroid disorders, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, and cancer (liver, testicular, and kidney).
For PFOS, epidemiological studies have reported associations between PFOS exposure and high serum cholesterol and reproductive and developmental parameters. Exposure to PFOS has caused hepatotoxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, thyroid disruption, cardiovascular toxicity, pulmonary toxicity, and renal toxicity in laboratory animals and many in vitro human systems.18 These results and related epidemiological studies confirmed the human health risks of PFOS, especially for exposure via food and drinking water. Applying the EPA Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, there is suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential for PFOS.19 Studies in animals have shown that PFOA and PFOS can cause cancer in the liver, testes, pancreas, and thyroid.
WHAT ROLE DOES THE US MILITARY PLAY?
Many of the nation’s highest levels of groundwater contamination with PFAS – highly toxic fluorinated chemicals linked to increased risk of cancer and other diseases – have been found at military sites, according to federal data obtained and analyzed by EWG.
Of the PFAS-contaminated military sites disclosed by the Pentagon to date, including civilian airports hosting National Guard units, 64 had PFAS levels in groundwater exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion, or ppt.
At 13 sites – in California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – PFAS contamination levels in at least one groundwater source topped 1 million ppt. The highest known detection was at England Air Force Base, in Louisiana, where 20.7 million ppt of a fluorinated chemical known as PFHxS was found in 2016.
The 100 military sites with the highest detections of PFAS pollution are listed here.
Independent scientific studies have recommended a safe level for PFAS in drinking water of 1 ppt, which is endorsed by EWG. Several states have set drinking water standards between 10 and 20 ppt. The Environmental Protection Agency has set a non-enforceable lifetime health advisory level of 70 ppt for the two most notorious PFAS chemicals, which many experts have deemed inadequate.
PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because once released into the environment they do not break down, and they build up in our blood and organs. According to test results from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, virtually all Americans have PFAS in their blood. Very low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, harm to the liver, or thyroid disease and other health problems.
Tests at the military sites were conducted by government contractors between 2016 and this year. EWG obtained the data through Freedom of Information Act requests, Department of Defense reports, and information collected by the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, at Northeastern University. EWG is awaiting complete responses to FOIA requests from a number of service branches.
PFOA and PFOS, two PFAS chemicals that have been phased out under pressure from the EPA, were detected at all of the 100 Defense Department sites with highest detections reported so far. But at many of the sites, the highest detection was for PFHxS.
That chemical, one of thousands in the PFAS family, was also phased out. It is commonly detected at contaminated sites but has not faced the same level of regulatory scrutiny as PFOA and PFOS.
Numerous other PFAS chemicals were also found at military sites. They include PFBS, a so-called short-chain replacement for the longer-chain chemicals that have been phased out. According to analyses published by the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFBS can also be harmful to human health.
PFAS levels above 100,000 ppt have also been detected at industrial sites. But this analysis shows that Defense Department tests have produced some of the highest detections for PFAS chemicals in the country.
To reduce PFAS levels, in recent years the Defense Department has treated the tap water provided to service members on military bases. However, the department has so far refused to clean up groundwater contamination impacting communities near military installations.
The likely source of PFAS contamination on and near Defense Department installations is the use of fluorinated firefighting foams. The Pentagon helped develop fluorinated foams in the 1960s.
Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 would end the military’s use of fluorinated foams by 2023. The House version would also end the military’s use of PFAS in food.
US Environmental Protection Agency PFAS/PFOS Warnings
- Fact Sheet on PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories (November 2016)
- HOJA INFORMATIVA Presencia de PFOA y PFOS en el agua potable Avisos de salud
- BLOG: Science Guides Public Health Protection for Drinking Water by Joel Beauvais
- La ciencia guía la protección de la salud pública en cuanto al agua potable
- EPA memorandum “Clarification about the Appropriate Application of the PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories” (November 2016)
Provisional Health Advisories and Draft Health Effects Documents
- 2009 Provisional Health Advisory
- 2014 Draft Health Effects Document for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
- 2014 Draft Health Effects Document for Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
- Peer Reviewer Summary Report: External Peer Review of EPA’s Draft Health Effects Documents for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
EPA OUTLINE ON ADDRESSING RISKS
• EPA’s PFAS Action Plan
• Destroy PFAS Challenge – Closes November 23!
• Destroy PFAS Challenge – Informational Webinar Sept 16
• EPA PFAS Research Summary
• Status of EPA Research on PFAS
• Analytical Methods Development and Sampling Research
• PFAS Innovative Treatment Team
• List of PFAS for EPA CompTox Research
• More about PFAS
Additional general information on pfas and america’s water
… –and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a nationwide … –
… strategy to reduce PFAS mobility and leaching in a … – Hale – Cited by 39
… health research in PFAS-contaminated communities in … – Bruton – Cited by 5
SCIENTIFIC PAPERS AND JOURNAL REPORTS:
1 Moody, Cheryl A. and Field, Jennifer A. Perfluorinated Surfactants and the Environmental Implications of Their Use in Fire-Fighting Foams. Environmental Science & Technology. Vol. 34, No. 18, pp. 3864- 3870. September 2000.
2 Moody, Cheryl A. and Field, Jennifer A. Perfluorinated Surfactants and the Environmental Implications of Their Use in Fire-Fighting Foams. Environmental Science & Technology. Vol. 34, No. 18, pp. 3864- 3870. September 2000.
3 Estimated Inventory of PFOS-based Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) by R.L. Darwin
4 US Department of Health and Human Services – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 2018. “Draft Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls”; European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 2008. “Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Their Salts.” The EFSA Journal. Volume 653. Pages 1 to 131.4 US Department of Health and Human Services – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 2018. “Draft Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls”; European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 2008.
5US Department of Health and Human Services – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 2018. “Draft Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls”; EPA 2015, “Long-Chain Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylate and Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate Chemical Substances; Significant New Use Rule.” Proposed Rule. 40 CFR 721. Federal Register: Volume 80 (No. 13).
6 EPA 2015, “Long-Chain Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylate and Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate Chemical Substances; Significant New Use Rule.” Proposed Rule. 40 CFR 721. Federal Register: Volume 80 (No. 13); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2006. “Risk Profile on Perfluorooctane Sulfonate.” Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee. Geneva, 6 -10 November 2006
7 Department of the Navy, “Candidate Environmental Impact Statement – Discharging Aqueous Film- Forming Foam (AFFF) to Harbor Waters During Tests of Machinery Space Fire-Fighting Foam Systems Aboard U.S. Navy Ships” (1978)
8 As evidenced by documents produced by 3M in previously filed litigation.
9 S.M. Salazar, “Toxicity of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams to Marine Organisms: Literature Review and Biological Assessment” Naval Ocean Systems Center (1985)8 As evidenced by documents produced by 3M in previously filed litigation.
10 EPA News Release, “EPA and 3M ANNOUNCE PHASE OUT OF PFOS” (2000) found at https://archive.epa.gov/epapages/newsroom_archive/newsreleases/33aa946e6cb11f35852568e1005246 b4.html
11 See “Minutes of the DOD AFFF Environmental Meeting” held at the Naval Research Laboratory Navy Technology Center for Safety and Survivability Washington, D.C. On 2-3 August 2000.
12 See ATSDR “Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls, Draft for Public Comment” (2018) found online at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp200.pdf
13 EPA, “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment” EPA-630-P-03-001F (2005)
14 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, volumes 1-125” (2019); IARC “Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans” (2019)
15 Vieria et al., “Perfluorooctanoic Acid Exposure and Cancer Outcomes in a Contaminated Community: A Geographic Analysis” Environ Health Perspect. 121(3): 318–323 (2013).
16 ATSDR, “Public Health Statement, Perfluoroalkyls” (2015)
17 EPA, “Drinking Water Health Advisory for Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)” EPA 822-R-16-004 (2016)
18 Zeng, et al, “Assessing the human health risks of perfluorooctane sulfonate by in vivo and in vitro studies” Environment International Volume 126, May 2019, Pages 598-610 (2019) 19 EPA, “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment” EPA-630-P-03-001F (2005)
19 EPA, “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment” EPA-630-P-03-001F (2005)
Contributions to this report were provide by:
Paul Napoli, Esq
Michelle Greene, Esq
Napoli Shkolnik PLLC
For additional information or to provide commentary on this release or to contribute please contact:
Disclaimer: This article may include media excerpts and previously published information and science data from available third party public sources as reference material.