There’s been a lot of talk in the media, surprisingly recently about P-F-A-S, PFAS chemicals, and honestly, that is surprising. Filling in this week for Mike Papantonio, Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins is joined by attorney Madeline Pendley explain the dangers associated with this widespread toxin.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Farron Cousins: There’s been a lot of talk in the media, surprisingly recently about P-F-A-S, PFAS chemicals, and honestly, that is surprising. It’s not typically something that we see the media talking about, but I’m joined now by Madeline Pendley. Madeline, we’ve talked about PFAS here at Ring of Fire on America’s Lawyer quite a bit. That’s a case that Mike Papantonio has been handling. So obviously we’re gonna talk about it. I gotta say, I’m really shocked because on a weekly basis, at least, I will get online check the websites I usually check and I’ll see articles about PFAS. This is something the country is actually finally starting to pay attention to.
Madeline Pendley: Exactly. They’re finally paying attention. It’s not a new issue to your point, and even the litigation’s not new. We’ve really been doing offshoots of the PFAS litigation for over a decade and the main thing that’s gotten the attention these days is the settlements, finally, with some of the biggest PFAS manufacturers, 3M and DuPont. So finally, because there’s billions of dollars being talked about people are finally looking into the issue.
Farron Cousins: And it’s really interesting too to kind of see how the PFAS issue has evolved, I guess you would say, because of course the first, the big one was Teflon. 3M develops these chemicals and DuPont takes it over. And so for decades we’re being told, hey, look at this great non-stick pan. This is wonderful. Everything is great. And then they’re dumping off all of these PFAS chemicals into the Ohio River Valley. We’re talking about entire towns just poisoned with these toxins.
Madeline Pendley: Correct.
Farron Cousins: So those were the first cases with huge, huge results there for everybody. And now we’re starting to see it in the military bases. We’re seeing it with the firefighting foam. We’re seeing it in the water supply. This has now just branched out and ballooned into all of these avenues where PFAS are flowing.
Madeline Pendley: Yes. And to your point, they’ve always made products with PFAS in them, and they’re always miracle products. To their credit, they do work well. I mean, a non-stick pan, it was hard to transition. But the latest product that we are going after and that resulted in the settlement is the firefighting foam as you were alluding to. But what is so bad about that product in particular is it’s actually the perfect mechanism to spread PFAS everywhere. So the way these firefighters, airport workers and so on were trained to use it, is they were told you need to train with it daily to make sure it still works, which isn’t true, so they could sell more foam and they were told to spray it just directly on the ground and leave it. And so if you’re not familiar with this, it looks like a big foam blanket, like firefighters thought it was as safe as bubble bath. They were having graduation parties in it, like spraying foam around.
Farron Cousins: Oh my god.
Madeline Pendley: Yeah. Because they thought it was safe, because that’s what they were told. They would spray it on the ground, leave it soaks into the soil, soaks into the water table and so that’s how it spreads everywhere from there.
Farron Cousins: And at this point, some of the studies that have come out absolutely shocking because we’re looking at 98% of the population, not the population of this room, not the population of our state, 98% of human beings have traces of PFAS. You would have to travel to some remote country, to a group of people never contacted by the outside world. And even then you’re probably still gonna find PFAS. That’s how prevalent it is.
Madeline Pendley: Exactly. And so you think when we talk to people about this case, they think, oh, well, if I live near a military base or if I live near an airport, that’s the only time I would have to worry. And certainly you’re being exposed to more when you live close to facilities like that, but it’s everywhere now. And because, and again, foam is not the only product that PFAS chemicals are in. They’re in so many things and they’re starting to be regulated, so they’ve got to stop using those things. But for the time being, it’s already everywhere.
Farron Cousins: It is. It actually reminds me a lot of asbestos. People thought like, oh, okay, well they’ve outlawed asbestos. No, no, no. They outlawed asbestos to be used as insulation. It’s still used in vehicle manufacturing tremendously. All kinds of other side applications that people didn’t know there was asbestos in. And PFAS is the same way.
Madeline Pendley: It is.
Farron Cousins: Because it’s like, okay, well I don’t have the non-stick pans, so I’m good. I’m obviously not a firefighter. I’m totally fine. No, you could look at the Levin Law website, has a great list of like, listen, here’s all the main things. And that’s just the beginning. You could be a hundred miles away, but because of the way the water tables flow, that military base, oh, well that’s in another state, that’s over the border. You are getting those chemicals. You could live the cleanest, healthiest lifestyle and unfortunately, you can’t hide from these. That’s what’s so scary about it.
Madeline Pendley: That’s exactly right. And then they’re continuing to be used in other products, like even fast food packaging. You know, like when you get a milkshake and it doesn’t stick to the cup, it kind of beads up. It’s all in there. It used to be in Chipotle bowls, but at least they’ve switched ’em out. I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s in rain jackets. And thankfully the amount of PFAS in those products is significantly less than what we saw with the High River Valley cases and what we see with firefighting foam. So hopefully just limit your exposure and we’re okay there, but there’s really no escaping what’s already in the water. And then once it’s in the environment, it’ll hang out in the soil for decades, if not centuries, just continuing to matriculate down into the water. So even once you get the water cleaned up, it’s kind of just continuing to leach down, leach down, leach down. And so it’s gonna be this ongoing, incredibly expensive remediation project for decades to come.
Farron Cousins: And one of the things that Pap loves to point out, well, he doesn’t love to, but he always makes sure to point out, is that this is bioaccumulative.
Madeline Pendley: Yes.
Farron Cousins: So it’s not just like, oh no, I just had PFAS, let me go flush my system. It’s there and then it builds up. So again, you can live the cleanest lifestyle and you can say, look, I’ve gotten rid of all of my exposure. It’s not gone from you. And that is of course, when the problems start, because you have these substances that are foreign to your body. They don’t belong in your body, but they’re there and they’re there for decades.
Madeline Pendley: And it’s hard to avoid. It’s almost impossible to just, okay, I’ve identified one source of PFAS, I’m now going to stay away from it. You really can’t. It’s everywhere. And to your point, once you’re exposed, it continues to build up in your body with each and every exposure. So even if it’s minimal, it will accrue in your body and remains in your body for years.
Farron Cousins: So what are the, I mean, the list is massive. What are the biggest health issues that we’ve seen with the PFAS exposures?
Madeline Pendley: There are a ton, as you mentioned. The ones that we think are best supported at this time, just based on literature that’s been going on, studies that have been going on for decades are kidney cancer and testicular cancer. Those have been supported as far back as the original litigation that you mentioned in the Ohio River Valley. But it also causes so many other smaller things like even hypothyroidism, causes birth defects a lot of the times. We saw that in the Ohio River Valley cases. Issues with fertility, issues with not being able to lose weight as easily. There’s just a lot of stuff because they disrupt your endocrine system as well and what we also see is they damage DNA, which is how it causes cancer.
Farron Cousins: Yeah. These chemicals are horrific. We got a little bit, I guess you’d call it relief, this past summer. The EPA did come out. So what are these new guidelines, I guess, that we’ve got? It’s kind of hard to make out with the way they’ve put the limits.
Madeline Pendley: Right. So it’s a proposed maximum contamination level, meaning they’re not final yet, but we think they will be. And basically what it is requiring is that water providers, city of whatever utility, they have to now start testing for PFAS if they weren’t before. And if they find more than four parts per trillion, which is actually a very, very small amount, they then have to take steps to remediate their water. Before we had an issue where it was difficult to tell where PFAS was because not everyone was testing for it, and not every facility or provider could test accurately down to the level that we think they need to be able to. These providers were, and it’s not their fault, but they were saying things like, we don’t have any PFAS. You don’t know that that’s true because you’re not, you don’t have what you need to do the testing. So the EPA came out with what’s called UCMR 5 that will require everyone to test. So we will have a much better idea of where these chemicals are and at what levels, which I think is a good first step.
Farron Cousins: It is. It’s a long overdue first step, at least we’re finally getting there. And part of it, I think too, is the fact that there is now attention on this. Hopefully, obviously we’re gonna keep doing it. I hope the rest of the media keeps doing it. Madeline, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a horrible story. You did a phenomenal job telling it though, so thank you.
Madeline Pendley: Thank you. Thanks for having me.