Contamination by ‘Forever Chemicals’ has Reached Crisis Levels in U.S.

From pizza boxes and takeout food containers to rugs, dental floss and outdoor clothing, synthetic chemicals called PFAS are everywhere.

They have been in commercial production since the 1940s to make surfaces resist stains, water and grease. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down. Once they are in our bodies, they remain. Nearly every U.S. resident has PFAS in his or her body, with studies finding PFAS in blood, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, placenta, and other tissues.

People can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with the chemicals. Exposure has been linked to birth defects, developmental issues, infertility, cancer and other serious health problems.

PFAS, “Forever Chemicals,” Contamination Crisis In The US

Contamination has reached crisis levels in the U.S., experts say, and they question whether recent efforts by the government to regulate PFAS are too little, too late.

“This new attention still falls short of what’s required to confront an unprecedented crisis that affects the health of the entire United States and countless people across the world,” David Bond, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College in Vermont, wrote in The Guardian.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will set enforceable drinking water limits on PFAS. The agency has identified more than 120,000 locations around the country where people may be exposed.

EPA also will require manufacturers to provide detailed data about classes of compounds they produce, and plans to designate some of them as hazardous chemicals under the nation’s Superfund law.

The Defense Department announced that it will finish initial assessments of possible PFAS contamination from nearly 700 of its installations by 2023. And the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, are researching the chemicals’ health effects.

A History of Failure to Protect Against Toxic Chemicals

The EPA promised to tackle these toxic chemicals under both the Obama and Trump administrations, in 2009 and in 2019. But little meaningful change has resulted, as the chemicals have continued to surface across the country and remain unregulated by the federal government in the nation’s water systems.

“I hate to be cynical, but I’ve been seeing this for 20 years,” Robert Bilott, an environmental attorney who in the past successfully sued DuPont on behalf of plaintiffs exposed to PFOA in Ohio and West Virginia, told The Washington Post.

“It’s massively overdue. It’s decades overdue,” he said. “This is a huge public health threat, and it’s something that has just gone on way too long.”

Meanwhile, the companies behind PFAS have known about its toxicity for decades and have done nothing amid lax government oversight.

When 3M and DuPont learned about concerning patterns of birth defects and cancer in their own workers at PFAS plants in the 1970s and 1980s, they hid the evidence. In the 1970s, the Navy and Air Force failed to act when they found that PFAS was leaking from their bases into nearby communities.

By the 1990s, 3M and DuPont realized that their PFAS operations were polluting municipal drinking water at levels they considered harmful. As revealed by investigative reporting and depicted in the 2019 film Dark Waters starring actor Mark Ruffalo, corporate executives destroyed evidence while reassuring residents and government regulators.

“Over the past century, the petrochemical industry had countless opportunities to recognize the dangers of PFAS and install safeguards,” Bond wrote in The Guardian. “Instead, they launched even more PFAS into the world,” adding that the companies knowingly disposed of PFAS waste into watersheds providing drinking water to more than 20 million Americans and irrigation to farms in 13 states.

Mike Watters, an Army veteran who lives near Fayetteville Works in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is battling leukemia, which he believes is the result of exposure to PFAS in his property’s well water and the air. Many of his neighbors have cancer, too.

“Twenty-three years in Special Forces and the enemy couldn’t kill me,” Watters told The New York Times. “But my water very well may.”

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving toxic exposure. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations who put them in danger. Contact us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.