Keeping  it  Real:  Is  It  Safe  to  Drink  the  Water?

“It is critical that we assess sources of PFAS exposure in environmental justice communities and resulting health risks to better inform equitable solutions to protect these communities,” said Max Aung, PhD, USC Keck School of Medicine. Credit: Chris Allen, BVN

S. E. Williams

Among the many silent and invisible dangers lurking in our environment, PFAS stand out.

PFAS or Polyfluorinated Substances are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They can cause serious health impacts including cancers, developmental defects, infertility, diabetes and liver damage. What makes them most concerning is that they are frequently found in water systems and because water is something fundamental to life—well you can pretty much guess the rest. 

In late June, it was announced that the USC Keck School of Medicine in partnership with the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC were awarded more than $433,000 to study what’s been defined as the “PFAS Drinking Water Crisis in Southern California.” 

Max Aung, PhD, and leader of the study in partnership with USC’s Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD. stated, “It is critical that we assess sources of PFAS exposure in environmental justice communities and resulting health risks to better inform equitable solutions to protect these communities.” 

I’m grateful this work is being conducted but I also wonder how much damage has already been done to those living in these communities owed to PFAS.

The concerning health implications resulting from PFAS in water is one of the reasons CA Attorney General Rob Bonta is leading a coalition of 22 attorneys general in opposing a proposed class action settlement to hundreds of lawsuits filed by water suppliers against 3M over its use of PFAS. 

According to Bonta the settlement offer  fails to adequately hold accountable the 3M Company (3M) for what he declared is “contaminating Americans’ drinking water supply.”

Under the proposed settlement, water providers would be required to withdraw their lawsuits filed against 3M over its use of PFAS. These chemicals are found in a wide range of consumer products and firefighting foams. They are also referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are considered “stable in the environment, resistant to degradation, persistent in soil, and also known to leach into groundwater.” 

I applaud Bonta’s opposition to the settlement because as he noted, in its current form it doesn’t “adequately account for the pernicious damage that 3M has done in so many of our communities.”

In the settlement 3M is proposing to pay  $10.5 to $12.5 billion to water providers. Although on its face it appears to be a huge sum of money we must consider that nearly every public water provider in the United States would be entitled to a share including those that have not sued as well as those that have yet to even test for the presence of PFAS in their water supply. All of this in  return, of course, for waiving their claims. 

In addition, that amount could be impacted by certain provisions that could force the water providers to reimburse 3M for many costs. Isn’t that bizarre?

This case is currently pending judicial consideration. In the meantime, this is not Bonta’s first dance with 3M. 

Last November he filed a lawsuit against 20 PFAS manufacturers, including 3M, for endangering public health, causing irreparable harm to the state’s natural resources, and engaging in a widespread campaign to deceive the public in relation to their use of PFAS. The case is currently working its way through the judicial process. 

As the climate changes,  drought conditions worsen and jeopardize water imports (as noted by USC), the reality of it all  is already having an unnerving impact on the state’s water supply. When you add to that the health dangers posed by PFAS polluting our tenuous water supply, the PFAS issue  should serve as an important reminder that we must pay attention to what is happening in our environment and how important it is that environmental issues like PFAS and many others can no longer be ignored—as noted by Bonta, [T]he stakes could not be higher.” 

At some point, capitalism and the free market must take a back seat to human survival. 

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

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