Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are manmade materials used in many products for their repellant abilities. PFAS easily repel grease, water, and stains, and rose in popularity for use in non-stick cookware and similar products.
First developed in the 1940s by DuPont, the class of PFAS has grown to include thousands of chemicals resistant to environmental breakdown. They can be found in numerous consumer, commercial and industrial products, including food packaging and personal hygiene products, resulting in 99 percent of the population having a buildup of PFAS in their bodies. Animal species and environmental materials, such as water, soil, and dust, have also been found to contain levels of PFAS.
Though approved for use in food packaging and cookware by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency maintains the levels used are safe and that there is no harm to consumers. At present, there are no laws requiring manufacturers to disclose the use of PFAS in their products and materials.
The widespread use of PFAS and their versatile adaptability to various environments means humans are regularly exposed to forever chemicals in numerous ways. The majority of known exposure is low, however, as they accumulate in the body over time, the risk for illness increases with each exposure. Some of the more common forms of exposure include:
Tracking and assessing how PFAS exposures occur and affect health is difficult given the extensive number of PFAS, each with varying levels of toxicity and effects, along with the many forms and levels of exposure occurring during different life stages.
The longevity of forever chemicals, their ability to accumulate over time in the body, and their interaction with other substances creates the potential for health risks, such as:
Research into how various levels of PFAS exposure affects human health is ongoing, and efforts to update risk evaluations and assessments are also underway.
Media coverage in recent years has brought more attention to PFAS, alleging government agencies and companies continue approving and using forever chemicals in products despite knowing the dangerous toxicity levels, sparking a handful of class action lawsuits. Also, several brands and manufacturers are taking action to eliminate PFAS from their products, such as Patagonia, Inc., L.L. Bean, and Ralph Lauren, along with fast-food giants McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A.
Proposed changes are underway in federal government as well. In an effort to regulate PFAS levels in drinking water, the EPA initiated the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations in 2020. Congress introduced the 2021 Keep Food Containers Safe for PFAS Act, which is currently in review, and several states have begun enacting new regulations for food packaging.
Forever chemicals and many other manmade substances can potentially lead to many troubling health conditions. If you believe you have had increased exposure to PFAS or other manmade toxic substances, our Wilmington environmental lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. can help. Call us at 302-656-5445 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we represent clients in Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.