Understanding Why Toxic “Forever Chemicals” like PFAS are Such a Big Deal

Chemicals like PFAS have been used for decades across the U.S. before the dangers were fully known. Now, many of our friends, family, and neighbors are experiencing long term side effects and serious health complications due to over exposure.

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PFAS Toxic forever chemicals

The most common sources for PFAS contamination stem from fire training/fire response sites, industrial sites, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. From innocent civilians living near PFAS contaminated air or water sources, to urban and military Firefighters getting exposed through AFFF,  lives have been forever altered by these “forever chemicals.”

At Fleming, Nolen and Jez, we believe companies that make and/or sell dangerous chemicals that harm the public could be held accountable. 

This blog should help answers some questions regarding PFAS, and what should be considered when filing a potential PFAS Lawsuit or AFFF Firefighting Foam Lawsuit.

PFAS Litigation Updates

The Environmental Protection Agency has changed its recommendation for two forever chemicals (PFOA and PFOS), setting a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, a non-enforceable health-based goal, to ZERO. What this means is the EPA believes there is no level of exposure to these contaminants without risk of health impacts, including certain cancers.

As the municipal water contamination cases get litigated, there is now room to focus more on the personal injury cases for AFFF and PFAS exposure.

For example,  Santa Fe County resident, Jennifer Steketee, filed a lawsuit against 3M and other companies for their role in suppling aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) containing PFAS despite knowing the risks the product has on the environment. Steketee’s lawsuit, is just one of the countless lawsuits faced by 3M, DuPont, Chemours and Corteva over alleged widespread PFAS contamination.

In an attempt to draw focus away from firefighting foam lawsuits, chemical manufacturers 3M, Chemguard, and Tyco Fire Products are looking to  transfer a lawsuit initiated by the Connecticut attorney general to federal court. This lawsuit seeks to limit the use of PFAS chemicals, which the state has labeled as a “toxic menace to human health.” The chemical companies argue that their production of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), implicated in PFAS contamination, was developed under strict U.S. military specifications, including the requirement of PFAS compounds like PFOA and PFOS. They argue the complexities of the case and their role as government contractors supplying a critical product necessitate a federal court setting.

A laundry list of U.S. cities, towns and water districts argue that the $11 billion water settlement with companies including 3M and DuPont de Nemours is not enough to cover the cleanup and legal costs facing water providers after the companies allegedly polluted drinking water with PFAS “forever chemicals.”

“The funds proposed are grossly inadequate,” said the City of Dallas, Texas, asking the court to reject the settlements until fixes are made.

Researchers sited by the National Cancer Institute found that elevated blood levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a specific type of PFAS, was associated with higher risk of developing testicular cancer. These findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives in July 2023. Testicular cancer happens to be a commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. active-duty servicemen.

Chemical manufacturer 3M Co. will pay at least $10.3 billion to settle lawsuits over water contaminated with PFAS chemicals to many U.S. public drinking water systems.

What are Forever Chemicals?

Forever Chemicals have increasingly been featured in news stories around the world as new research highlights their increased presence in wildlife and humans. So, what are they? Well, there are two main groups of Forever Chemicals:

1.) PFAS (Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances)

Commonly used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. 

Main types of PFAS:
  • PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid)
  • PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
  • Gen X / HFPO-DA (hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid)

2.) BP (Bisphenols)

Commonly used to produce polymers and resins which are then used to make plastic materials.

Main types of BP:
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Bisphenol S (BPS)

Durability of PFAS Chemicals

Most Forever Chemical compounds like PFAS and BP do not break down easily. Some chemicals have a half-life (the time it takes for a chemical to breakdown) of roughly 2-5 years. As a result, these chemicals remain in our environment for a long period of time. Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of everyday products.

PFAS chemicals

What are PFAS Chemicals used for?

A great example of common products that use PFAS are non-stick pans and other cookware. These chemicals make the outer layer of the cookware stick resistant. Other products that use PFAS coatings include:

  • Some jackets, shoes and clothing
  • Furniture
  • Adhesives
  • Food packaging
  • Fast food wrappers
  • Heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces
  • Waterproofing
  • Some cosmetics
  • Personal care products
  • Stain repellants
  • Insulation for electrical wires
  • Firefighting foams

What are the Risks of Forever Chemicals?

Over exposure to PFAS has recently been linked to several health risks. Some of these health risks include certain cancers, developmental issues, reduced immune function, hormonal interference and heightened cholesterol levels. In June of 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency released a press release stating:

"The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time. The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health."

PFAS chemicals

They continued by stating, “These actions build on EPA’s progress to safeguard communities from PFAS pollution and scientifically inform upcoming efforts, including EPA’s forthcoming proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS, which EPA will release in the fall of 2022.”

Health Problems and Cancers Linked To PFAS Contamination

Cancers Associated

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Other Health Problems Associated

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Small decreases in infant birth weights
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women

The Impact of Increased PFAS Exposure

“I have spent the last five years fighting cancer with every ounce of my being. Through no fault of my own, I was exposed to these toxic chemicals. And as a result, I will die with this cancer.”
Amara Strande PFAS
Amara S.
Victim of Toxic PFAS Exposure

Amara Strande grew up in a comfortable middle-class home with her parents and sister in Minnesota. When Amara was three, her family moved just a mile away from the 3M headquarters. 

Around 2004, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) discovered PFAS in the local groundwater in the Oakdale area and other parts of Washington County. 3M had been dumping PFAS waste in pits near the area for years, resulting in a nearly 200-square-mile underground plume of contaminated groundwater. By the time the MPCA discovered what had happened, drinking water supplies had been tainted for more than 140,000 residents, affecting Amara’s home.

Amara was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer at the age of 15. Unfortunately, she succumbed to this fight on April 14th, 2023 at only 20 years old.

texas cattle livestock

Stories like Amara Strande are, unfortunately, becoming far too common. Some farmers in Texas are seeing their health decline, their pets and livestock sickened and killed, their water poisoned and and their property values wiped out due to high levels of PFAS chemical contamination. 

In recent years, PFAS contamination has become widespread in farms across the U.S. In 2018 a New Mexico dairy farmer was forced to euthanize his herd of more than 3,600 cows due to groundwater contamination from nearby Cannon Air Force Base.

A 300-acre Michigan farm was shut down in 2022 due to PFAS contamination in the cattle, land, and water from tainted fertilizer.  

“[Farmers] are suffering significant daily economic losses due to the inability to market their cattle or beef. Many have had to euthanize their entire herd, a crushing and emotional task, especially since some heifers may be pregnant.”

In February 2023, the state of Ohio experienced a major train wreck derailing a total of 38 train cars that resulted in over 115,000 gallons Vinyl Chloride spilling into the environment. This man-made chemical is a colorless gas that is used to create a hard plastic resin that can be used for plastic products.  According to the EPA, short-term exposure to vinyl chloride can lead to damage to the nervous system, while long-term exposure has the potential to cause cancer and liver damage.

Some professions like firefighters and military personnel are more prone to increased levels of PFAS exposure. When a natural disaster hits, these brave men and women get more exposure to these “forever” chemicals.

Why are Fire Fighters at Risk of Developing Certain Cancers?

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) or firefighting foam is commonly used by many firefighters to extinguish fires. These foams are typically mixed with water to form an aqueous film that cuts off a fire’s source of oxygen, extinguishes it, and stops it from reigniting. AFFF is used regularly in live action and training exercises by both professional firefighters and military personnel, as well as being used to put out gasoline-based fires.

In addition to AFFF, Teflon and Scotchgard are chemicals used in Firefighters’ turn out gear to protect them from water, oil and heat. While together these chemicals are highly effective in fighting different types of fires, they have also become a source of concern due to their large amount of PFAS chemicals which have been tied to certain cancers and environmental contamination.

Drinking Water Contaminated with PFAS

The EWG (Environmental Working Group) conducts test throughout the United States. They found between May and December of 2019, Brunswick County, N.C., Quad Cities, Iowa and Miami Florida had the high concentrations of PFAS in their tap water supplies. In Texas, San Antonio and El Paso county had the highest concentrations of PFAS.

These high levels may be a result of military base activities and privately held waste sites being around the given areas. Waste and spills can contaminate the soil and leak to surrounding underground wells and water supplies. In addition, these chemicals can build up in fish and other wildlife, which then could be consumed by the public

Regulatory Response and Pending PFAS Lawsuits

As more information comes out on PFAS and other chemicals, governmental organizations have started to respond:

  • 2002:  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) banned the manufacturing and importation of certain PFAS chemicals into the United States.
  • 2016: The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked authorization for the use of certain PFAS chemicals in food packing materials. Also, the USEPA established a drinking water health advisory for the combined concentrations of two PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
  • 2022: The EPA updated the Health Advisory Level to less than 1 parts per trillion (ppt).
  • 2023: The EPA caps PFAS chemicals from 70 parts per trillion (ppt) to 4 parts per trillion (ppt).

 

PFAS Lawsuit Start to Develop

In addition to regulatory responses, public and private water providers have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and others responsible for failing to instruct and warn end users of the presence of PFAS chemicals in their products. These lawsuits allege companies that manufacture these products failed to warn about the harm PFAS poses to the environment and our communities. These lawsuits seek compensation for the costs associated with removing PFAS chemicals from the water supply.

In 2024, two families in Texas filed a lawsuit against Synagro of Texas-CDR Inc. for selling PFAS-laced fertilizer to neighboring farms. This type of fertilizer used semi-solid treated waste obtained from wastewater facilities called biosolids. Biosolids have been promoted as an effective means for turning sewage into useful agricultural applications that can boost crop yields. The biosolids are supposed to be treated to remove toxics, but as we stated earlier, PFAS chemicals are difficult or sometimes impossible to breakdown. In addition to civil lawsuits, the Johnson County Constable’s office has opened a criminal investigation into Synagro, according to the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Can Forever Chemicals Like PFAS Be Avoided?

PFAS has been detected around the world ranging from rivers, streams, oceans, in the blood of animals and even in dust samples from day care facilities. The most concerning are PFAS samples found in the blood of human beings.

According to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using data from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,  found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans. Another report suggested blood levels of PFOS and PFOA in people have been reduced since those chemicals were removed from consumer products in the early 2000s. However, new PFAS chemicals have been created and exposure to them is difficult to assess.

PFAS contaminated water

Although there are a lot of everyday products that may contain PFAS, there are some small things you can do to reduce your exposure levels:

  • Reduce Use of Certain Products

    Be mindful of food packaging and fast food wrappers. While at the store, check product labels for ingredients that include the words "fluoro" or "perfluoro." Also, avoid stain-resistant or water-resistant treatments and stop using cookware with non-stick coatings after they show signs of wear.

  • Check Your Drinking Water

    Check with your municipality if they test for PFAS levels in the public water system. Check if your bottled water has a NSF label or an IBWA seal.

  • Be Cautious with Wild Fish

    Make sure to follow local wildlife guidelines when fishing or eating fish caught in the wild.

Do I Quality to File a PFAS Lawsuit?

If you suffered severe injuries or developed specific illnesses due to PFAS exposure, you may have the right to file a lawsuit and pursue compensation for your damages.

There are a couple of signs to look for to see if you may have had toxic exposure to PFAS:

  1. If you received a letter or notice from a water provider(s) notifying of elevated PFAS levels in their drinking water.
  2. If you live in a PFAS “hot spot.”
  3. If you live near any major airport, fire department or military base where AFFF has been used.
  4. If you have taken a blood test showing high levels of PFAS.

The compensation you may receive in a PFAS claim varies based on the nature and severity of your PFAS-related cancer or illness. Our lawyers could pursue the following types of recoverable damages on your behalf:

  • Medical expenses, both past and future
  • Lost wages, both past and future
  • Pain and suffering, both physical and mental, past and future

If you or a loved one were over exposed to PFAS chemicals, worked as a firefighter, served in the military, or lived or worked near a PFAS “hot spot” and now suffer from a serious illness like cancer or other health conditions, please don’t hesitate to contact our office. As long as you can prove PFAS exposure, you have the right to seek compensation either through your own single suit or through being a member of a class action.

Have You Been Over Exposed to PFAS?

At Fleming, Nolen & Jez, our personal injury lawyers have dedicated their careers to fighting for the rights of injured victims throughout the United States. We are here to support victims in Texas and nationwide by filing lawsuits on their behave to help recover medical costs, lost wages or livelihood, and pain and suffering damages from the hurt of losing a loved one. 

We offer free, no-obligation consultations to review your potential case. You may be able to file a lawsuit to secure the compensation you deserve to help get you and your family move forward from tragic circumstances.

One Comment

  1. I have recently gotten bladder cancer, prostate cancer and two partially brain tumors. I have a long career of working in many chemical plants waste water oil-paper mills all over USA and Canada

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