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PFAS: Current Lawsuits and Overview

PFAS: Current Lawsuits and Overview
By Robert Bjornson on December 03, 2019 7:00 AM

Our environments are filled with chemicals. Some of them occur naturally, while some were introduced by people. Unfortunately, some of the chemicals introduced into the environment by people — by companies, specifically — can and do cause serious health issues.

One such group of chemicals currently receiving attention are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Companies that manufacture and use PFAS are hesitant to impose limits on the chemicals, but a variety of entities are taking legal action to prevent continued use of PFAS.

What Legal Actions Are Being Taken?

PFAS have been used for decades, and many people believe that the companies that produce and use PFAS have long known about the negative environmental and health effects and chose to do nothing about them.

One of the most significant legal actions currently underway is a class-action lawsuit against several PFAS manufacturers. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a career firefighter who was exposed to PFAS through firefighting foams, was recently allowed to proceed via a federal ruling.

The class in the lawsuit includes everyone in the U.S. who has measurable amounts of PFAS in their systems. The goal of the lawsuit is the formation of an independent panel of scientists who will be responsible for "thoroughly studying and confirming the health effects that can be caused by contamination of human blood with multiple PFAS materials."

If the panel is formed and is able to verify the believed negative health and environmental effects of PFAS-exposure, the companies that produce and use PFAS may be held liable for those negative effects.

Additional Actions

There are currently several lawsuits underway across the nation. Additionally, movies have been made about PFAS and the people who have fought to create public awareness and policy changes. Some settlements have already been reached, although those settlements are certainly not the end of the PFAS story.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of specialized chemicals that are resistant to several elements, e.g., water, oil, grease. Because of their characteristics, PFAS are frequently used to make a wide variety of products, including:

  • Some waterproof materials
  • Non-stick coatings for cooking appliances
  • Packaging for foods
  • Cleaning products
  • Fire-fighting foams

One of the reasons PFAS are so significant is because of the amount of time it takes for them to break down. Studies have shown that PFAS can survive and accumulate for decades, both in the environment and within people, which is part of the reason PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals."

What Are the Health Effects of Exposure to PFAS?

Much research is still being conducted to determine the many ways PFAS affect people and their environments, but studies conducted by several independent and government agencies have shown that relatively modest levels of PFAS can cause serious health issues such as:

  • Increased cholesterol
  • Below-average infant birth weight
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Cancers

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