The discussion of PFAS chemicals has consistently been in the news the past few years. And concerns are gaining momentum—many environmental specialists are expressing concern about how these substances may impact our world. Understanding the uses for these chemicals and their effects has become an important issue for businesses across the country.


What are PFAS chemicals?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals,” are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in used in product production since the 1940s.

PFAS chemicals include

  • PFOA
  • PFOS
  • PFBS
  • GenX
  • Many other synthetic substances

There are thousands of types of PFAS, some of which have been more widely used than others. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of this group.

Where are PFAS chemicals found?

PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products, including: stain repellents, food containers, fire retardants, cookware, and many other everyday products. The benefit of using these chemicals is that they are resistant to grease, oil, water, and heat. They can be found in:

  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
  • Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, furniture, etc.) that use PFAS.
  • Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, waxes, adhesives, nonstick products, polishes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams.
  • Drinking water, typically concentrated geographically and associated with a specific facility or industry (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, etc.)

Why should we be concerned about PFAS Exposure?

The widespread use of these chemicals and their ability to remain intact in the environment results in increasing levels of environmental contamination from past and current uses. The characteristics that have made them desirable for use in products are the very ones that have led to their wide-spread contamination. We don’t yet know the full implications of PFAS exposure, nor do we have a standard for cleaning them up.

There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans, including low infant birth weights, cancer, liver damage, thyroid hormone disruption, and effects on the immune system. These chemicals may be released into the air, soil, and water, including sources of drinking water.

How has awareness about PFAS changed the way the insurance marketplace views this exposure?

The past few years have proven to be an uncertain time for companies and communities impacted by PFAS chemicals. Not only are the businesses producing these chemicals being held responsible for damage resulting from them, neighboring facilities are also feeling the effects, as well as localities with contaminated wells, water bodies (and the animals that live in/near them), just to name a few. Many insurance companies have blanket exclusions for PFAS in their policies and some underwriters are very reluctant to take on accounts where this exposure may be present.

The EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have each estimated levels of total human exposure to PFOS and PFOA that they believe will not lead to toxicity. But since the effects of low level PFAS are still unclear, some carriers are just not willing to risk writing coverage for sites with a potential exposure.

For more information on PFAS or to discuss a specific account, please contact us.

News stories involving PFAS

Federal Judge’s Ruling Allows Class Action Suit Against PFAS Makers to Proceed
An order issued today by a federal judge allows a class action case against 3M, DowDuPont, Chemours and six other companies to proceed when he denied every motion to dismiss the case brought by these chemical corporations responsible for producing toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS.

A scientist who worked at a company that’s being sued over dumping ‘forever chemicals’ warns the toxins ‘stay in your blood and don’t leave’
Glenn Evers worked as a chemical engineer for DuPont Industries for 22 years, designing coatings for paper food packaging. While there, he discovered that Zonyl RP — a chemical found in popcorn bags, fast food packaging, and paper plates — was entering people’s food at three times the rate that the company had reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Like many grease-proof items, Zonyl RP contained a type of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), a class of chemicals linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and developmental issues.

PFAS Found in Biodegradable Food Packaging
Recent studies have shown that compostable food containers, as well as paper plates and fast-food containers, often contain short-chain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, to repel water and grease. Short-chain PFAS may pose significant environmental and health risks.

Lawmakers Grill Corporations about PFAS Contamination
As the number of communities in the U.S.  discovering high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continues to grow, congressional leaders are intensifying efforts to find legislative solutions to address the pervasive problem.

Johnson Controls To Use $140M For PFAS Cleanup
Johnson Controls International has announced it will use $140 million to address pollutants from firefighting foam in northeastern Wisconsin. The company said that it had reviewed the environmental exposure of its facilities in Marinette, where its Tyco Fire Products unit has tested firefighting foam for decades. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are used in firefighting foam and other products like nonstick cookware.

Billion-dollar lawsuits: Will non-stick chemicals finally stick on 3M?
An estimated 35 federal bills take aim at 3M Co.’s chemical pollution, and 41 states have complained that it’s in their groundwater. Wall Street analysts have downgraded 3M’s stock, citing potential legal liabilities of up to $6 billion.

DNR asking 125 municipal wastewater plants to test for contaminants known as ‘forever’ chemicals
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources asked 125 municipal wastewater treatment systems, including Milwaukee’s, to begin investigating for the presence of a group of chemical contaminants that pose health hazards to humans. The agency is asking operators of treatment plants to trace potential sources of contamination from a suite of compounds that are coming under growing scrutiny

PFAS assessment the first step in understanding chemical’s exposure impact
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said the initiation of an exposure assessment near the Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base in Berkeley County will only be the first step of many in understanding the impact a chemical spill in the drinking water has had on citizens in the area.


Information was obtained from the following sources: