A group of very useful chemicals has been in use for decades in all sorts of industries and applications. Now they are also being found in drinking water and the human bloodstream. Businesses need to prepare now.
What Are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, include thousands of chemical compounds. They are an emerging environmental risk that is already affecting human health and the environment.
PFAS are (and have been in the past) used in lubricants, sealers, adhesives, coatings, and firefighting foam to name broad categories. Their water-repelling, non-stick, anti-corrosion, ultraviolet protective capabilities are amazing. PFAS uses include cosmetics, food wrappers, plastic bottles, carpeting, solar panels, car seats, electrical wiring, roofing materials, furniture, clothing, paints, cleaners and more.
History of These Forever Chemicals
PFAS use began in the late 1940s and quickly flourished around the globe. Studies in the 1980s suggested danger associated with certain long-chain compounds, especially those associated with manufacturing discharges. By the late 1990s, third-party injury lawsuits were numerous. New (safer?) versions were manufactured to phase out long-chain compounds.
By 2005, scientific studies were providing evidence that some PFAS compounds act as human carcinogens. Links to birth defects, cancer, thyroid disease and a host of health conditions emerged—and not just for those within the shadow of manufacturing facilities.
PFAS are referred to as forever chemicals. What makes them so effective in products is what makes them hard to mitigate. They are quite stable and therefore difficult to break down. Natural decomposition is estimated to take hundreds to thousands of years.
Further, they bioaccumulate (more is absorbed than eliminated) in our environment and our bodies through products containing PFAS. These chemicals have impacted groundwater and the food chain. Scientists have stated that 98% of humans have detectable PFAS in their bloodstream.
What Is the EPA Doing?
In October of 2021, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan launched the EPA’s PFAS Roadmap. This comprehensive strategy outlines corrective actions occurring over the next three years. Steps include the following:
- Understanding the PFAS lifecycle and pathways of exposure
- Preventing further entry of PFAS into the environment
- Holding polluters accountable
- Investing in research to quantify harmful exposure, establish thresholds, test for, measure and remove PFAS
Many states have already adopted drinking water standards for several PFAS constituents in the parts per trillion (ppt) range, some as low as 10 ppt. A part per trillion is frequently equated to a drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. On June 15, 2022, the EPA revised its standing health advisory limit for PFAS in drinking water from 70 ppt to a variety of standards by constituent: 0.004 ppt for PFOA compounds; 0.02 ppt for PFOS compounds; 2000 ppt for PFBS compounds and 10 ppt for GENX compounds. Concurrently, the EPA announced funding to support water utilities in addressing this new advisory.
What Should Businesses Be Doing?
Businesses across the country will soon face requirements to disclose PFAS presence in their products currently and in prior years (possibly up to 10 years ago). Do the following to get ready:
- Discuss the possibility of PFAS existence at your worksite with your environmental attorney and/or consultant.
- Begin to review the ingredients within feedstock, components and products that you manufacture, assemble, distribute or use in your business now and or have used in the immediate past. If PFAS are included, are they at safe levels and what substitutions can be made?
- Prepare a historical chronology of your business insurance policies (general liability, workers’ compensation, directors and officers liability, site pollution liability, contractor’s pollution liability) should these programs provide indemnity for a future claim. Particularly useful are occurrence policies issued before pollution exclusions. Pollution exclusions introduced in the 1980s likely will come under further litigation challenges.
- Prepare for future insurance policy limitations related to PFAS. Carriers will be emphasizing the breadth of existing pollution exclusions.
Pollution-related liability costs can add up quickly. Environmental insurance can help you manage your exposures, but only if it’s the right type of insurance, aligned properly with the risks you face. Hylant has the deep technical and regulatory understanding to help you. To speak with an environmental risk expert about your business, contact Mary Gerding or submit a question here.
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.