PFAS is the environmental dilemma manufacturers across several sectors will need to pay attention to now. PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It is a family of chemicals used in several applications, but they’re getting a great deal of attention because of potential negative environmental impacts. That attention is in the form of regulation, remediation obligations, and possible lawsuits, so potential increased risk and liability that manufacturers will need to proactively assess.
To know if your production business could be impacted, here are 3 questions to ask.
Do you now or have you previously used PFAS compounds in your process?
The Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council, or ITRC, lists 18 businesses and software of PFAS compound use including: aviation and aerospace; automotive; biocides; building and construction; cable and wiring; cosmetics and personal care products; electronic equipment; energy; firefighting and safety; food processing; household products; medical products; metal plating and metal finishing; oil production; mining; paper and packaging; photolithography; and fabrics. PFAS compounds also have been associated with auto wash operations, paper or cardboard recycling operations, and properties on or near former army bases. If your organization is in one of these industries, then you should check if you now or previously have used PFAS chemicals or investigate if PFAS chemicals might have been used on the property.
Central heating plants may also have internal fire suppression methods which use PFAS chemicals and may have been triggered inadvertently or because of an emergency situation.
In 2020, EPA added 172 PFAS chemicals to its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), so businesses that need to run annual TRI reporting will have already had to assess whether they have PFAS compounds in the surgeries.
Do you already participate in the remediation of federal Superfund remediation projects?
If your present portfolio of environmental obligations includes remediation at one of Superfund sites, then that remediation may be impacted by PFAS. There are no PFAS compounds currently listed as a hazardous substance under Superfund, but this was a stated focus in the new Biden administration. Meanwhile, EPA has set interim remediation targets for two of the PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, and Superfund sites are asked to look for all these new contaminants. If found, there will probably need to be more funds allocated to these remediation projects.
Do you have a well that uses groundwater as a source for either process or drinking water?
The primary health issue with PFAS compounds is intake through drinking water. Some states — including Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and several others — have employed statewide drinking water sampling applications to test public water supplies. This sampling has also contained non-community systems which may service industrial centers. If your facility uses an onsite groundwater well, which could possibly be included as part of a testing application.
That is, obviously, not a comprehensive of record of what a manufacturer could critique, however, these questions can act as an initial screening tool. If your manufacturing company could have possible consequences from use of PFAS, think about working with an lawyer to assess what your dangers may be. These dangers might be in the kind of higher water or air allowing obligations, new or increased remediation work, employee exposure or citizen suit lawsuits, current and past waste disposal queries, and enhanced focus on those issues during transaction diligence — to mention a few.