There is a new class of chemicals that are emerging from the shadows that are creating difficulties in landfills and public drinking water. These are perfluorinated compounds, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). These names, or their abbreviations, might sound vaguely familiar as they have been recently found in drinking water and landfills near factories and warehouse facilities. They are best known as chemicals in anti-stick coatings for cooking utensils such as Teflon pots and pans. But they have much wider uses.
So why should you care? PFOA and PFOS are often used in waterproofing and rendering products less permeable to moisture. Canvas and cloth materials for shoes, boots, tents, tarps, upholstery, flooring and carpets and ground coverings often use them. They are also used to harden and toughen and improve wear resistance of plastics and rubbers.
Historically, PFOA and PFOS were used in the United States in carpets, leathers, textiles, upholstering, paper packaging, and coating additives as waterproofing or stain-resistant agents. They are stable in the environment because they are resistant to environmental degradation processes. Because of their stability, they can be transported long distances in air or water. Traditional methods of removing them from ground and drinking water are usually not successful. Much more expensive techniques, such as activated carbon filtration are needed.
Clean up of PFOA and PFOS can be very expensive as many communities in upstate NY and southern Vermont are discovering.
So these products may be in your finally assembled products. They may also be in the waste that your facility produces. Leaching from these products in landfills can contaminate groundwater and eventually public drinking water.
So what should you do?
The EPA as yet to establish maximum levels of these two chemicals that are acceptable in drinking water. As a result states and localities can set their own different limits. This can create compliance and clean up nightmares with huge costs.
- Determine from your suppliers if PFOA and/or PFOS are in the materials or products they sell you. Be particularly aware of waterproofing or stain resistant processes.
- Determine if PFOA or PFOS is used by you on your products and take steps to avoid using them and to replace them.
- Avoid depositing materials containing PFOA and PFOS in landfills or on your property. The environment in a landfill can cause it to leach out of waste material and enter the groundwater. If that happens it can travel substantial distances to contaminate private wells and public drinking water.
- If you have been using or disposing of materials containing PFOA or PFOS, seek legal and technical help.
California recently listed PFOA and PFOS under Prop 65 in November 2017, and introduced a bill to ban PFAS in food packaging. California says that PFOA and PFOS are carcinogens and can cause reproductive harm and birth defects. New Hampshire issued guidance in 2016 requiring PFAS sampling at certain regulated sites based on previous PFAS use or exposure and at sites subject to groundwater monitoring requirements.
I am sure that there will be more to come.