PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of around 10,000 chemicals which are used in a huge range of consumer products from cookware and cosmetics due to the useful properties provided by their unique, strong carbon fluorine bonds.
However, because they don’t break down in the environment they have been dubbed “forever chemicals” and concerns have been raised about whether some could be carcinogenic or endocrine disruptors.
Last week, global chemicals companies Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva, reached an agreement in principle to set up a $1.19 billion fund to help remove PFAS from public drinking water systems in the US.
It was also reported by Bloomberg News that the American multinational conglomerate 3M, which has been named the top PFAS producer in the world by ChemSec, had reached a tentative deal with water companies worth “at least $10 billion” to settle PFAS claims.
According to the news agency, 3M is set to appear at its first federal trial over PFAS today, which will feature around 4,000 PFAS-linked lawsuits being brought against the company. This has been described by Bloomberg as “the largest PFAS pact in the US and one of the biggest mass tort deals ever”.
Last year, 3M announced that it plans to phase out PFAS from its products and will stop producing the chemicals.
Swedish based international chemical secretariat ChemSec has previously estimated that the cost-burden of PFAS to the world is €16 trillion, per year, in terms of remediation efforts.
These agreements come as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), under the Biden administration, has begun tightening rules with regard to the use and disposal of PFAS chemicals.
Currently the PFAS chemicals PFOA and PFOS are the only chemicals widely regulated in drinking water. The level of these compounds that the EPA considers safe in drinking water is 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively.
In the UK, the statutory limit for both is thousands of times higher, at 0.1 micrograms per litre (µg/L), which is 100 parts per trillion (ppt), as per the EPA’s conversion guide. In a recent report, the Health and Safety Executive in the UK recommended that further statutory limits for PFAS in drinking water are explored.
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Rob Bilott, an environmental lawyer advising plaintiffs in the cases, reportedly said that the settlement is “an incredibly important next step in what has been decades of work to try to make sure that the costs of this massive PFAS ‘forever chemical’ contamination are not borne by the victims but are borne by the companies who caused the problem”.