PFAS: Why the hysteria?

 
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Byline: Bridgetower Media Newswires

ByNed Witte

Guest contributors: Rula A. Deeb, senior principal at Geosyntec Consultants, and Lydia R. Dorrance, senior scientist at Geosyntect Consultants

Consider this: as recently as a year ago, the term "PFAS" was relatively unknown to many lawyers, engineers and other environmental professionals. So, what is PFAS? PFAS is the acronym forper- andpolyfluoroalkylsubstances, a family of more than 5,000 man-made chemicals. Based on their persistence in the environment, PFAS are often referred to as forever chemicals. Few recent environmental issues have caught the attention of industry, regulators, environmental professionals and the media like PFAS. In fact,some have even questionedwhether the frenzy to address PFAS impacts is outpacing the toxicological understanding of these substances.

Why the hysteria?

The following are seven reasons, as well as many points of reference, that help explain the current PFAS landscape in the U.S.:

  1. PFAS are still new

    In the last several years, and for some states, in the last 12 to 18 months, regulators have turned their attention to PFAS. States are now beginning to identify PFAS sources and areas of contamination within their borders. As a part of the process, they are developing screening criteria or standards for safe concentrations of PFAS in groundwater, drinking water and surface water. They are also identifying qualified laboratories to test for PFAS.

    Though first formulated nearly 75 years agoand broadly used in commercial applications since the 1950s, environmental professionals only began looking in earnest for PFAS contamination in the last decade. And, with more than 5,000 PFAS compounds in existence, understanding the toxicity, occurrence, fate and transport of these chemicals is challenging. This limits currentunderstanding of optimal cleanup approaches.

  2. PFAS contamination is alarming

    While further toxicological studies are needed to understand thehuman health risks posed by PFAS, the rush to regulation is now pronounced. For example, the State of Wisconsin is consideringa recommendation from the Wisconsin Department of Health Servicesto regulate PFAS in groundwater at 20 ng/L. Few precedents exist where hazardous substances have been regulated at nanograms per liter (ng/L) or parts per trillion (ppt) levels. What does 20 ng/L actually mean?One analogyis that 20 ng/L is the equivalent of waiting 32,000 years for 20 seconds to pass.

    Don't look for the...

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