Widespread remediation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) came one step closer last week as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued 13 PFAS manufacturers for damages to public health. PFAS are synthetic fluorine compounds commonly used in consumer products for their ability to repel water and oil. Because of their popularity and persistence, PFAS have accumulated in groundwater, soil and even people—they are also dangerous to human health and the environment.
AG Healey’s lawsuits are the latest in a wave of similar PFAS litigation sweeping the country. Although public awareness about PFAS risk has increased rapidly in recent years, environmental scientists and public officials have been raising the alarm about the threat for much longer. According to Bloomberg Law, more than 6,400 PFAS lawsuits have been filed since 2005, most against international manufacturing giants like those named in AG Healey’s suit. GeoEngineers’ environmental scientists expect this trend to continue as more states and local water districts try to hold PFAS producers accountable and fund the sweeping remediation programs that are necessary.
Massachusetts lawmakers have been concerned about PFAS for years. The legislature established a PFAS Interagency Task Force in 2020, after an environmental study found widespread PFAS in the state’s drinking water. The task force held public hearings throughout 2021 to hear from researchers, environmental advocates, community members, state agencies, industry groups and other stakeholders. In a final report, the task force recommended expanding PFAS regulation, encouraging private PFAS well testing, funding PFAS testing and remediation, phasing PFAS out of consumer products, and supporting environmental justice efforts in affected communities, including firefighters.
Even when funding is secured, PFAS remediation will be challenging. Best practices are still evolving as environmental scientists like our own Sue Bator focus on how to most effectively treat or remove PFAS at affected sites. Although many questions remain, GeoEngineers works to stay on the forefront of emerging environmental contaminants like PFAS.