Duane Morris Kicks Off PFAS Webinar Series

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of moderating our inaugural webinar session on PFAS – PFAS What You Need to Know.  I was joined by fellow Partner Lindsay Brown of our Cherry Hill office, Larry Gottlieb, President and Chief Innovation Officer at ResinTech, and Colleen Costello and Thomas Geiger of Sanborn.

We spent the hour discussing many things PFAS related including, that in the panelists experience, the number of people and the knowledge base and visibility of PFAS in the environment and in products we use in our offices and homes has increased markedly in the last 3-5 years.  Despite this consumer and legal focus in the PFAS arena, it was felt that the medical profession, as a whole, has not focused on the impact to their patients and how to treat PFAS in the blood stream as of yet in an adequate way.

We reviewed how PFAS is a man-made substance that was created in the United States in a lab in the 1930’s and that it worked for its intended purpose – meaning, it is a very strong chemical and has incredibly strong bonds; it repels water as it was intended and it works well.  The unintended consequences of how far reaching the chemicals would flow and how quickly they would move in water and how they would find their way into various products in the home and the work place and what lingering health impacts to fish, animals and humans is still playing itself out in numerous studies that have been conducted over the last 7 years and counting. A massive uptake in litigation and class action lawsuits have proliferated over the past decade against the original 20 manufacturers of PFAS and these numbers continue to rise.

While the panelists pointed out that due to the danger of the chemicals, some PFAS have been phased out, they also noted that according to the National Institute of Environmental Health there are over 12,000 different types of PFAS – including PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid – an 8-carbon chain), many of which continue to be unregulated at the federal and state level.

We discussed various industries that have utilized PFAS in their products or in their manufacturing processes in the past including fire fighting foam, fire protection equipment, plastic manufacturing, synthetic fiber manufacturing, metal finishing and coating, textile mills, furniture manufacturing, leather and tanning operations, paper manufacturing, at airports, and in various consumer goods including cosmetics, fabric treatments, dental floss, toothpaste, toilet paper, ski wax and cookware, grease resistant paper, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, candy wrappers as well as in resistant coatings on carpet, upholstery and furniture and plastic wrapping for food.

So what is the big deal?  The group discussed that the big deal is that the  PFAS family of chemical compounds do not degrade in the environment, whether in water or in soil and are now found in fish, animals and humans around the globe. Given its strength, PFAS tends to bioaccumulate in humans and animals – meaning it does not leave our blood stream once it enters it and it accumulates as we continue to be exposed to more and more PFAS.

Some of the potential health impacts that the National Institute of Health and the EPA have focused on include developmental delays, hormonal imbalances, birth defects, testicular and kidney cancers, liver issues and endocrine disruption.

The panel discussed how PFAS has historically been measured, where it has been measured at all.  In many chemicals, measurements are done in part per million (PPM) or, in some instances, parts per billion (PPB) but that the EPA has determined that quantities of PFAS that exceed 4 part per trillion (PPT) are dangerous to humans if consumed in drinking water. A useful analogy provided by the panel is that we are talking about a danger level at a tea spoon worth of PFAS in 20 Olympic sized pools was

While awaiting EPA regulations on drinking water standards, many states enacted their own standards of 50 PPT or 15-20 PPT and these states will now need to re-evaluate and revise their standard in light of the recently announced EPA standard of 4 PPT.  States that have no PFAS standard will now also be subject to the federal standard of 4 PPT.

We also discussed that under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Reporting requirements, new reporting obligations have been enacted which are now in effect and which will require 189 different PFAS to report under its required reporting regime.  Historically, reporting was triggered from 100 pounds of PFAS or more but, starting in 2025, 7 new PFAS constituents have been added to the list of “chemicals of special concern” where no de minimis quantity exemption will apply.  Other reporting rules for PFAS under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA)  have also been implemented which will require certain importers and manufacturers of products with PFAS in the products to review their records and look back to 2011 and report on the amount of PFAS being used in such products.

Furthermore, we chatted about remediation techniques, including trapping PFAS at receptors and point sources to limit the amount of PFAS escaping into our ground water, as well as the “pump and treat technique” of such water and how to address impacted group water via granular activated carbon (GAC) and via ion exchange (IX) but, that these techniques, while very efficient at trapping the PFAS, do not eradicate it rather they merely separate it from the impacted water.  To truly eradicate the PFAS and not create off gassing into the air that will then likely impact surrounding soil around the off gassing, one would need to incinerate the PFAS to a temperature of approximately 1750 F (noting most incinerators do not get close to this temperature) in order to cause the PFAS to break down into its constituent elements of carbon and fluorine.  Not to give up hope, many technologist are focusing on how to remove the PFAS from various media (i.e., water, soil, etc.), and then how to destroy the PFAS in bulk using innovative techniques that include plasma, hot plasma, supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) and ionic gasification.

We wrapped up the hour touching on how the EPA has just, as of last week, declared certain PFAS to be a “hazardous substance” under CERCLA and, with this designation, under the law, strict liability will attach to the producer or seller of the product or for the owner of the site or building or use of the site or building that has the PFAS issue, irrespective of fault.  As such we all agreed that a focus on risk mitigation, insurance, allocation of who bears what risk in a sale, lease, purchase and product delivery system are key areas to consider as the law continues to evolve and class action lawsuits continue to proliferate in the arena.

For more information on PFAS, the panel’s favorites include WQA.org, the EPA’s PFAS site and PFAS toolkit, the ITRC guide on PFAS and the NJDEP site and its PFAS tab.

Duane Morris has an active PFAS team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to and execute on PFAS issues and initiatives in order to manage risk, ensure compliance and minimize litigation risk. We are available to discuss your concerns and objectives and how new rules, regulations and rulings might apply to you.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Lindsay Ann Brown, Lori A. MillsBrad A. Molotsky, any of the attorneys in our PFAS Group or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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