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PFAS: What You Need to Know

Think of this piece as a teaser trailer for a movie that has a plot, but that’s about all at this point. It is expected to be a blockbuster, so you will want to pay attention. The movie centers around PFAS, “Per- and PolyFluoroAlkyl Substances”.

The plot: PFAS have been used for several decades throughout the economy in numerous applications, such as nonstick coatings, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, water- and stain-repellent fabrics, furniture, and carpets, and firefighting foams. Their creation and use have led, for a variety of reasons, to their release to the environment. Because of PFAS’ nature, they have persisted—partly why they are useful in the first place—in the environment. The very low concentrations at which they have been detected in water, including drinking water at much less than 1 part per billion, have anticipated associated human health risks. People are understandably concerned and want—in many places are clamoring for—their government(s) to do something. Governments feel pressured to respond and are responding in various ways at various speeds in the absence of important information. Governments will act to protect people, even as important information is being developed, and their actions might not go in a straight line.

These details are being developed right now. This is why you need to pay attention, especially to what your state is doing. Some states are far down the path towards implementing drinking water standards for PFAS and almost certainly more. If history is any guide, there will be focus on industrial activities to determine if there are obvious "strong" sources of PFAS that can and should be controlled and regulated. Given the pervasiveness of historical PFAS use, any industry could end up being regulated because of the presence of PFAS, regardless of how PFAS came to be present. From a technical perspective, PFAS is a difficult problem: widely distributed at very low concentrations.

This is one of the important topics at the upcoming ISRI Safety & Environmental Council Meeting in Nashville, May 21-23, 2019. Background PFAS information, including links to some states' activities, can be found at online. Stayed tuned.

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