Are PFAS the next MTBE? Or, perhaps the next asbestos? Or, in the words of William Shakespeare, is it much ado about nothing? That is the question from both sides of the bar, as well as industry and the regulatory bodies. Initially, it seemed as a one-off instance of an industrial chemical release of something called PFOA, in the small, upstate, picturesque Village of Hoosick Falls. However, on the heels of the lead water contamination disaster in Flint, Mich., and an ever-aware and educated public, groundwater contaminated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (referred to as PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), was suddenly everywhere anytime someone sampled for it.

It now appears that PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS, may make the gasoline additive MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) look like a blip on the radar of toxic tort litigation. PFAS chemicals are being found in the groundwater at airports, fire training installations and military bases across the country because it was used in firefighting foam for suppressing petroleum fires (aqueous film-forming foam or AFFF). PFAS have also been found in high concentrations in soil and groundwater at plants that manufacture stain-resistant textiles and non-stick cookware. And as if that were not enough, Sen. Charles Schumer just requested the Food and Drug Administration to launch a formal investigation into the health consequences of PFAS chemicals used in fast food packaging.

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