It was just a few years ago that many people wondered if concerns about per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) might eventually fade and make way for another emerging contaminant.  We all know the answer to that.

Concerns about PFAS contamination quickly moved from the consciousness of the environmental community to a global concern affecting seemingly everyone.

Below we are providing another update with respect to PFAS developments.

Impacts of PFAS in Rural Communities and Agriculture

In an announcement at the end of 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated they are “…seeking applications to better understand the potential impacts of (PFAS) on water quality and availability in rural communities and agricultural operations across the United States.”

The notice from the EPA goes on to state that they are “…seeking new information on PFAS occurrence, fate, and transport in water sources used by rural communities and agricultural operations, and new or improved PFAS treatment methods appropriate for small drinking water and wastewater systems including influents, effluents, and biosolids/residuals.”

Last spring, we discussed two farms that were impacted by PFAS (see PFAS: The EPA’s Plan, Dairy Farms Impacted, Biosolids, and Litigation Against the Air Force). Below is an update on those farms.

Farmers Impacted by PFAS

According to Bloomberg Environment, Fred Stone, a farmer in Maine whose farm was contaminated with PFAS from the land application of biosolids from a wastewater treatment plant, is still dealing with PFAS.  Notably, Mr. Stone discontinued applying biosolids on his farm 15 years ago.  Nevertheless, because the limits for PFAS analysis are in the part per trillion (ppt) range, and due to the persistent nature of PFAS chemicals, his land is still considered impacted.

Also worth noting is that Maine is the only known state that has actually established an “action level” in milk for some of the PFAS chemicals (perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA] and perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS]). The action level established by Maine is 210 nanograms per liter or ppt.

When the concentrations in milk were above 210 ppt, Mr. Stone was able to get financial aid from the state.  But the concentration in his milk is now below Maine’s limit, so aid is gone, but no one is interested in his milk because data show that PFAS are present, regardless of concentration.

With respect to the dairy farm in New Mexico, Bloomberg reports, “Art Schaap, owner of Highland Dairy in Clovis, N.M., also can’t sell any milk because his cow’s water is contaminated with PFAS from uses at the nearby Cannon Air Force Base.  He’s gotten aid from the indemnity program and is grateful for it.”

PFAS Litigation Ramps Up

In a related article from Bloomberg Environment, they compare the flurry of PFAS legal action to that of asbestos, tobacco, and lead-based paint.  At the current pace, PFAS lawsuits could easily dwarf those previous environmental/health legal actions.

More States Involved in PFAS Litigation

Below are some excerpts from this article.

“A judge in South Carolina is handling hundreds of lawsuits against 3M Co., E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., and other manufacturers over PFAS present in firefighting foam used across the country.”

“A judge in Ohio, meanwhile, is fielding dozens of lawsuits involving PFAS water contamination near a manufacturing site on the Ohio River.”

“Residents of communities in Vermont, Michigan, North Carolina, and New York have filed class actions targeting companies with local manufacturing sites that made PFAS chemicals or used them in their operations, including 3M, DuPont, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. and shoemaker Wolverine World Wide, Inc.”

Recently, the Michigan Attorney General announced the state has filed suit against 17 manufacturers for PFAS contamination.

Shareholders File Suit and Military Bases Being Sued

“Shareholders have filed several cases accusing chemical companies of misleading investors on the extent of PFAS liabilities.  The litigants say company executives knew about the financial risks for decades but only recently disclosed them.”

In addition to New Mexico’s litigation against two Air Force Bases in their state, “Pennsylvania residents are suing the Navy over PFAS in groundwater near two naval sites, and the Air Force is facing litigation over contamination claims from a water utility in Colorado…”

“Water utilities that have found PFAS in their supplies have lined up in court to get 3M, DuPont and other companies to take responsibility.”

PFAS Worldwide

The breadth of PFAS impacts are global.  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) says, “… PFAS have been found in the environment and in the blood of humans and animals worldwide.  Most people in the United States have one or more specific PFAS in their blood.”

EPA Provides Update

And yet, we still lack the necessary research and data to make good scientific decisions, including establishment of appropriate regulatory limits.  In November 2019, the EPA provided the following:

“EPA researchers are developing standard human health toxicity reference values for specific PFAS where sufficient scientific data exist.”

“EPA researchers are measuring PFAS in air, drinking water, soils, etc., to understand how and to what degree people might be exposed to PFAS.”

And in a January 7, 2020, press release, the EPA stated they are, “…continuing to aggressively implement our PFAS Action Plan…”  They also state, “On December 3, 2019, EPA sent a proposed regulatory determination for PFOA and PFOS to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.”

PFAS Levels Dropping

If there is good news, it’s this from ATSDR:  “From 1999 to 2014, blood PFOA and PFOS levels declined by more than 60% and 80%, respectively.”

What’s next, other than more litigation, is anyone’s guess.  Throw into the mix the politics of a presidential election (and more), and we’ll likely have no shortage of issues to cover in 2020.

If you need assistance with a PFAS issue, Dragun can help.  Our senior staff have extensive experience in assessment and litigation support with a variety of contaminants, including PFAS.  You can contact me (248-932-0228, Ext. 134), and I will put you in touch with one of our project managers.