The Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown has announced two lawsuits filed against multiple chemical manufacturers for the alleged widespread contamination of Maryland’s natural resources and damage to Marylanders’ health.
The lawsuit, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment, alleges that the manufacture, marketing, and sale of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by these companies, including 3M and DuPont, have polluted the State’s environment and put the health of Marylanders at risk.
The first lawsuit tackles the contamination caused by PFAS present in fire fighting foam that has been used by the U.S. military, airports, industrial facilities, and fire departments. The second suit addresses PFAS contamination from other sources, including consumer products, which were introduced through industrial facilities. That suit includes the use and disposal of the products, landfills with PFAS waste, and wastewater treatment plants with PFAS-contaminated waste streams.
The lawsuit alleges the chemical manufacturers knew the dangers of using PFAS products for years but kept the risks secret and continued the manufacturing, marketing, and sales of their PFAS products in Maryland for profit.
“Those who would choose to pose a risk to Marylanders' well-being must be held accountable,” said Gov. Wes Moore. “By filing these claims, Maryland is making clear that we value health, safety, and preserving our state's precious natural resources for future generations over corporate profits.”
The Department of the Environment says PFAS in humans and animals has been linked to diseases such as kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and low birth weight, and may also impair the immune system.
The two lawsuits aim to recover damages and costs of the investigation, cleanup, restoration, and treatment of Maryland’s natural resources from PFAS contamination. Both suits were filed on behalf of the State of Maryland, the Maryland Department of Environment, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the Maryland Department of Health.
I've been sitting on these too long, so I'll just throw them out here:
There’s certainly some evidence to suggest that these chemicals can cause harm at high enough concentrations. But there’s also a great deal of observational data showing correlations with all sorts of endpoints that, rather than showing true evidence of harmful effects, may simply reflect that PFAS levels are a good marker for general health (more on that later).
This is inherently the problem with observational research. First, despite all the recent attention, PFAS aren’t a new group of chemicals (1). They’ve been around since the 1940s, and humans have been exposed to these compounds for about 70 years.
They’re present in various products that most people use in their homes: paper and cardboard packaging, Teflon coating, Scotchgard, cosmetics, and the list goes on. The two most widely known are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
They’re also commonly used in building materials. Given their widespread use and their persistence in the environment (in the air, dust, water, and soil), they’ll continue to be found in our bodies for a long time to come.
However, blood levels of PFOA and PFOS have been greatly declining in the U.S. population since manufacturers have begun phasing them out of products.
While epidemiological studies show an association between these chemicals and cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, there are also associations between disease/death and terrible lifestyle choices. That may be confounding the association between PFAS and kicking the bucket.
For example, fast food, pizza, microwave popcorn, ice cream, soda, fried (not omega-3 rich) fish, candy, salad dressing, butter, cheese, and white rice have positive associations with PFAS levels. However, eating at home shows an inverse association with PFAS levels, while going out for fast food is associated with a higher level.
Those eating a diet in omega-3-rich fish, fiber, fruit, and vegetables also show lower PFAS levels (4), while consuming a diet rich in fried fish, low-fiber foods, and high-fat bread/cereal/rice/pasta was associated with higher PFAS plasma concentrations.
This begs the question: Are at least some of these proposed adverse effects of PFAS simply confounded by the fact that lifestyle choices known to improve health are associated with lower PFAS exposure, while unhealthy choices are associated with higher PFAS exposure?
It’s not surprising given that PFAS are found in fast food containers and packaging, non-stick paper, pizza boxes, and plastic used for various foods (butter, microwave popcorn, ice cream, candy).