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The National Academy of Sciences—a private, non-profit organization—recently issued a report regarding committee findings on the human health effects from exposure to per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a class of over 12,000 man-made chemicals, commonly used in consumer and industrial products as a surfactant.

PFAS are also known as “forever chemicals” due to their bio-persistence. Due to their chemical structure, PFAS resist degradation over time due to the strength of the bond between their carbon and fluorine atoms. Further, even when their chemical structure is broken, they will re-assemble as PFAS. Largely for this reason, there has been growing concern in the regulatory and scientific community regarding human exposure to PFAS through drinking water and use of consumer products.

The academy’s report focused on seven (7) of the most commonly produced PFAS. The committee found that there was sufficient evidence of an association between PFAS exposure and decreased antibody response in adults and children, dyslipidemia in adults and children, decreased infant and fetal growth, and increased risk of kidney cancer in adults. The committee found only limited or suggestive evidence of an association between PFAS exposure and the following health effects: increased risk of breast cancer in adults, liver enzyme alterations in adults and children, increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, thyroid disease and dysfunction in adults, and increased risk of ulcerative colitis in adults. The committee found insufficient evidence to support any association between PFAS exposure and respiratory conditions, neurological effects, and any cancers other than kidney, breast and testicular cancer.

The committee findings are notable for a few reasons. First, the committee’s finding of a “limited” or weak association between PFAS exposure and certain types of cancer—such as breast cancer, and testicular cancer—undermines the studies on which many current personal injury suits against PFAS manufacturers and suppliers are premised. Second, although the committee found there was “sufficient evidence” of an “association” between PFAS exposure and certain health conditions, it stopped short of stating there was any “causal effect” between PFAS exposure and any adverse health conditions. A “causal effect,” in contrast to an “association,” is demonstrated where exposure to a particular substance shows a statistically significant increase in the number of certain health outcomes, such as cancer, as compared to what would be expected in a non-exposed population. Although PFAS has been widely (and heavily) used in the United States for decades, no scientific organization or study has yet established a “causal link” between PFAS and adverse health outcomes. Despite the absence of a medical consensus as to whether PFAS constitutes a health risk, the National Academy of Science’s report nonetheless recommends that those individuals with suspected high levels of PFAS in their blood due to occupational or environmental exposures undergo testing, which will in turn be used in support of ongoing class action litigation demanding medical monitoring for those with elevated levels of PFAS exposure.
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California has just added per- and poly-fluoralkyl substances (PFAS) to the list of chemicals requiring consumer warnings under Proposition 65, meaning that state residents can soon expect to see the words “cancer” and “reproductive harm” on such common consumer products as shampoo, nail polish, cookware and fast food.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used for decades in consumer products such as fast food wrappers, clothing and carpets, as well as industrial products such as firefighting foam. Although there are no epidemiological studies showing a statistically significant link between exposure to PFAS and disease, in 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board stated that the chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” State regulations of PFAS in water and consumer products swiftly followed, with California in the forefront. In addition to proposed legislation to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics, California is now requiring any business that sells PFAS-containing products to provide a warning with the product, or face penalties of $2,500 per “violation.”

The impact of this latest regulation cannot be understated—PFAS are found in a wide variety of consumer products, and California is the world’s fifth largest economy. California obviously holds substantial influence in setting the standards for manufacturers, sellers and producers of goods across the globe. As such, the practical impact of adding PFAS to the list of chemicals regulated under California law is that a significant percentage of any business engaged in national or interstate commerce will now be required to place warnings on common, every-day products. Even virtual market place forums such as Amazon may be subject to Prop 65 enforcement actions. In order to manage Prop 65 risks and liabilities, businesses are advised to periodically review regulatory changes to ensure they remain compliant with Prop 65 requirements. In addition to implementing a system to track regulatory changes, it is also prudent that businesses adopt contractual provisions aimed at reducing their liability for a potential Prop 65 enforcement action. As more PFAS are added to the list in the coming years, it is crucial that businesses take the necessary steps now to minimize their risks and liabilities.
Continue Reading California Adds PFAS to List of Chemicals Subject to Prop 65 Enforcement Actions