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Perfluorinated Chemicals: Emerging Contaminant, Emerging Liability

Despite - even because of - their useful properties, perfluorinated chemicals ("PFCs") are increasingly thought to be dangerous for the environment, and potentially humans. PFCs are manmade substances with the ability to repel both water and oils, and are responsible for the stain repellant properties of your rug, the sauce-resistant properties of your takeout container, and the nonstick properties of your frying pan.

But PFCs are also suspected carcinogens that do not easily break down in the environment and accumulate in organisms over time. Despite an EPA program founded in 2006 to achieve a 95% reduction in emissions of certain PFCs, they are increasingly observed in ecosystems around the country and around the world. They are even being detected in human blood and breast milk.

While EPA has not yet promulgated federal drinking water standards for PFCs, it has highlighted six specific PFCs for potential future regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. New Jersey has preliminary drinking water guidance in place, and future regulation at the state and federal levels seems highly likely.

Because PFCs have been used in such a wide variety of products, the particular sources of PFC contamination in the environment are not currently well understood. However, plants that produced PFCs have already been the target of litigation. DuPont recently settled a class action suit for $8.3 million that was brought by people living near its Chamber Works, and in 2010, the Minnesota Attorney General sued 3M over its PFC waste disposal practices in the state.

Certain military installations are also emerging as potentially major sources of regional PFC contamination, likely due to the historical use on air bases of firefighting foam that contained PFCs. A naval air station in Pennsylvania and a Delaware Air National Guard basenear Wilmington have recently been in the news on this topic. With regulatory attention on this class of chemicals only expected to grow, expect more litigation to follow.

For additional information on PFCs and other emerging contaminants, contact one of the experienced environmental attorneys at Periconi, LLC.

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