PFOA and PFOS, the most notorious compounds in the PFAS family, still contaminate many areas of the country despite being phased out of production (PFOS was phased out in 2002, and PFOA by 2015/2016.) Although human studies have shown these chemicals to be of little toxicity, there are many animal studies that reveal these chemicals to be highly toxic. It’s not surprising then that there is a growing groundswell of advocacy behind federal regulation of these chemicals. And if the scientific uncertainty surrounding PFAS wasn’t enough to motivate advocates, there’s more. Early September 2019, The Intercept reported 40 PFAS chemicals that are still in active use despite manufacturers alerting the EPA to “substantial threats the chemicals pose to health and the environment.”
One of these chemicals—labeled 647-42-7—has been associated with a number of physical conditions found in animal studies. Yet in 2015, reports showed that millions of pounds of the chemical was produced in the United States. These other PFAS chemicals are shorter-chain alternatives to PFOA and PFOS (like GenX), and have been advertised as safer. According to the The Intercept, “The specific risks associated with these 40 PFAS chemicals—and the fact the EPA has had hundreds of reports documenting them for years, and in some cases, decades—has not been previously reported.” Apparently, at least 15 of these 40 PFAS compounds are still produced in large quantities (i.e., at least 25,000 pounds per manufacturing location). The upshot is that little is revealed about many of these new-age PFAS compounds—how many there are, where they are manufactured, and how much of them are manufactured. Many of these questions are deemed confidential for business reasons.
As we learn more about PFAS—and other previously little-known PFAS chemicals—there will be a continuing demand to determine how to combat the environmental impact of these compounds. Remediation technologies are studied constantly to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of these chemicals—the carbon-flourine bond in these chemicals make them quite difficult to remove. This September, the engineering school at Princeton University disclosed that it had run a series of laboratory tests that found that a relatively common soil bacterium (i.e., Acidimicrobium bacterium A6) demonstrated an ability to break down the stubborn PFAS compounds. Researchers revealed that this bacterium removed about 60 percent of PFOS and PFOA in lab vials over a 100-day period of observation. The researchers are working to increase the percentage of removal, and hope to test it in the field soon. Perhaps these researchers are onto a solution to solve the “forever” dilemma in the now dubbed “forever chemical.”
In a sign to come, the EPA awarded $6 million to eight state agencies and universities to study the environmental impacts of PFAS. The NYS Dep’t of Health, as well major universities in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Indiana received funding.
Our blog will continue to provide updates on PFAS as they arise.