How Forever Chemicals Contaminate Fish, People, and Threaten Indigenous Tribes

Fishing has been central to the culture of Indigenous tribes who have occupied the Great Lakes region for centuries in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. Fish don’t only constitute a big part of Native Americans’ diets, fishing is closely intertwined with the history and identity of many Indigenous tribes.

This is why the discovery of toxic man-made chemicals in the Great Lakes basin pose a huge threat to the environment and marine life and threaten the way of life of Indigenous tribes such as the Ojibwe, who rely on fishing for their diets and livelihoods.

What are PFAs?

Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAs – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are a group of man-made chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and build up in our bodies. Even small amounts have been linked to low-birth weight, cancer, immune system harm, as well as other diseases. These are just a few of the consumer products containing PFA chemicals:

  • Nonstick cookware
  • Cleaning products
  • Water resistant clothing
  • Cosmetics
  • Food packaging materials

PFAs contaminate public drinking water. As of August 2021, 2,854 locations in 50 states and two territories were found to be contaminated with PFAs. A study that compiled information taken from Pentagon data and water utility reports found that an estimated 19 million people are exposed to contaminated water in the United States.

What are the Health Risks of PFAs?

The most dangerous PFA chemicals – PFOA (used in Teflon) and PFOS (used in 3M’s Scotchgard) – have been phased out in the United States after revelations of their hazards. However, they are still permitted in items imported into the United States. Several studies have linked these PFA chemicals and other closely related PFA chemicals to:

  • Testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive problems
  • Weakened childhood immunity
  • Low birth weight
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Increased cholesterol levels

Although the federal government phased out PFOA, PFOS and related compounds – known as “long chain” chemicals because they contain eight carbon atoms – the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency is allowing “short chain” replacements, which have six carbon atoms. These short chain chemicals also pose a threat to humans, animals and the environment. In fact, a 2019 study revealed that short chains may even pose worse risks than long chains. This supports scientists’ assertion that the entire class of PFAs is dangerous.

Meanwhile, some states have taken matters into their own hands. In May 2021, Vermont became the latest of about two dozen states to regulate PFAs by banning the manufacture, sale, or use of a wide range of substances containing PFAs.

PFAs in the Great Lakes Basin

Groundwater from at least six Defense Department sites in the Great Lakes region is contaminated with high levels of PFAs, according to Department of Defense records obtained by the Environmental Working Group.

The records reveal levels of PFAs ranging from 5,400 parts per trillion (ppt) to 1.3 million ppt in the groundwater from six sites in the area. Michigan’s groundwater cleanup criteria and drinking water standards are 8 ppt for PFOA and 16 ppt for PFOS.

PFAs that seep into the Great Lakes basin can cause harm to wildlife, marine life, and humans and babies, while threatening the livelihoods and diets of Indigenous tribes who live in the region.

PFA Lawsuits

There have been several high-profile class action lawsuits against PFAs. New PFA lawsuits against manufacturers of the toxic chemicals are being filed constantly.

Many states and municipal governments are also filing PFA lawsuits against PFA manufacturers and other parties for polluting water supplies and the environment.

How We Help Victims of PFA Exposure

Seek justice with the help of our experienced lawyers. Our Dallas, Texas, law firm has battled corporate giants on behalf of individuals like you for 20 years, aggressively fighting to hold them responsible for dangerous chemicals and the birth defects and personal injuries they cause. If you have suffered due to contamination by a dangerous chemical or you have a child who has been impacted, we can help.