Once released into the environment through dispersal or improper disposal of a product, PFAS persist in the environment. These compounds are water-soluble and do not readily adsorb into sediments or soil; they tend to stay in the water column. Because these chemicals resist breaking down, scientists have found them globally — in water, soil, and air as well as in human food supplies, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, and human blood serum. These chemicals are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment. Both PFOA and PFOS are known animal carcinogens and are likely human carcinogens. Given their potential health risks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the manufacturers to reduce their use of these chemicals. EPA announced that it will soon regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water and recently issued Health Advisory Levels for PFOA (0.004 parts per trillion, or ppt) and PFOS (0.02 ppt) in drinking water.
AFFF manufacturers had the technology to produce AFFF with safer chemicals from as early as the 1960s. However, these manufacturers knowingly chose to make and sell AFFF with PFOA and PFOS. Cities, towns, and neighborhoods surrounding locations where AFFF was dispersed into the environment have reported contaminated groundwater and soil in their communities. Chemical manufacturers can be held liable for their negligence. Litigation against these companies has resulted in the recovery of billions of dollars, much of which has been applied toward the cost of cleanup efforts.