Another set of initials has emerged from the industrial chemical world: PFAs. Environmental scientists are just beginning to assess the magnitude and duration of the threat posed by these newly discovered compounds.
What is known so far?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PFAs are a group of more than a thousand chemicals that have been used in industry and the manufacture of consumer products since the 1940s. The chemicals are reputed to have many useful applications. A complete list of all chemicals that fit under the acronym PFA is not complete. The two most widely used and studied chemicals in the PFA group include perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perflouroctane sulfonate (PFOS).
PFAs have two unfavorable characteristics: they are found in many places in the environment, including human tissue, and they degrade or break down very slowly. Some of the places in which PFAs have been found include drinking water, soil and water at or near waste sites, fire extinguishing foam, plants that make chrome plated products, electronic, and certain textile and paper product manufacturers, fish caught in water contaminated by PFAs, food packaging materials, household products and dust, non-stick cookware, paints, varnishes and sealants, personal care products such as shampoo and dental floss.
Exposure paths for PFAs are many and varied. People can be exposed to PFAs by working in occupations that use PFAs in large amounts, such as firefighting or chemical manufacturing, drinking water contaminated with PFAs, drinking water or eating foods contaminated with PFAs.
Effects on human health
A few adverse effects on human health have been established by research to date. These effects include:
- Decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women
- Adverse developmental effects on young children, including low birth weight
- Increased risks of certain cancers, including kidney, prostrate, and testicular cancer
- Interference with the body’s hormonal processes
- Increased cholesterol levels and possible obesity
As worrisome as these effects may be, most scientists studying PFAs agree that the full measure of PFAs effects on human health have been neither observed nor fully measured.
As soon as a scientific consensus emerges about the effects of PFAs, health scientists will begin to tie certain adverse health conditions to one or more specific PFAs. Once this information becomes widespread, the law will impose on manufacturers that manufacture or use the chemicals a duty to inform individuals of the risks of working near the chemical or products that were manufactured using PFAs. When that happens, PFAs will join asbestos and DDT as two chemicals that are viewed as toxic, and when that happens, persons who have been exposed to PFAs will begin to seek damages for their exposure. At that point, attorneys who are experienced in handling toxic tort lawsuits will be in high demand.