October 8, 20200

In May of 2018 and August of 2020, we detailed what per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are. In those blog articles, we talked about how Massachusetts increased government environmental regulations in light of the major health and environmental effects.

The effects were detailed in scientific studies of these “forever chemicals,” which do not degrade or break down naturally. As a result of their longevity, PFAS accumulate in the environment, causing contamination, and have been found in humans and wildlife. As we discussed, Massachusetts has been trying to heighten its drinking water guidelines and soil and groundwater remediation guidelines for PFAS. Today, we’ll discuss some of the new science addressing the impacts of PFAS, advocacy for environmental protection and human health, and potential legal implications.

New University of Rhode Island Study

Advocacy for environmental protection takes many forms, including providing new scientific research. Anna Robuck, a doctoral candidate at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, studied PFAS concentrations in the livers of young seabirds found dead near breeding and/or feeding grounds in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.

It is clear from studies that PFAS bind to a protein found in the liver, and studies in humans and animals have shown that PFAS exposure can cause reproductive issues, decreases in immune system functions, and liver damage. The study, Legacy and Novel Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Juvenile Seabirds from the US Atlantic Coast, was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. It adds to the growing body of research on these compounds. Robuck’s findings show that these compounds can be found in shore birds and those who remain offshore, highlighting the far reach of the potential contamination. The findings also suggest a number of health concerns for birds as a result of PFAS exposure, including effects on the liver and reproductive health.

Advocacy for Environmental Protection Against PFAS

In addition, the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, released its own draft report on PFAS two years ago. This report linked a number of health concerns to PFAS exposure and advocated for lower exposure limits. The CDC recommended, for example, that one PFAS chemical requires an exposure limit that is ten times lower than the EPA’s current limit.This type of advocacy for environmental protection is meant to benefit human health.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, through emails obtained as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, determined that the EPA and the White House wanted to block the release of the final report, calling it a “public relations nightmare.” It is worth noting that while the draft was released in 2018, the final report has not been released to date.

This year, the EPA proposed new regulations aimed at curbing two of the PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Their current recommendations on these compounds are voluntary, but this proposal would make them mandatory. Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate this past March attempted to provide funding to the states through the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Water Pollution Control Act. The funding would provide for PFAS remediation costs related to contaminated groundwater and drinking water sources. The legislation meant to provide groundwater remediation funding for PFAS because these compounds are not currently recognized under CERCLA as “hazardous substances.” For now, it is unclear whether the federal government will act further, and to what extent, but PFAS limit advocates are pushing for action.

Potential Legal Implications

As we saw in Massachusetts, the states are free to adopt regulations that are more protective than the federal regulations. A number of alternatives to PFAS exist, though they likely break down in similar ways, and new alternatives are adopted by companies often. These companies are looking into using more alternatives, as they perceive more regulation of PFAS may be on the way. As knowledge spreads and research grows regarding these forever chemicals, though, the number of court cases involving claims related to PFAS contamination and/or injury continue to climb. The state regulations in place allow for some such claims to move forward.

You may be concerned about potential future remediation of these compounds, or about regulatory compliance with requirements as they stand today. Call Desautel Browning Law to talk with us about the current environmental laws and regulations regarding PFAS and your potential exposure to liability. We are available by email or by phone at 401.477.0023.

Leave a Reply