The Forever Chemical: Unveiling the Dangers and Implications of PFAS
PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in industries and consumer products for decades. There are more than 9,000 of these substances that can accumulate in the environment and in the human body, leading to potential health concerns.
PFAS chemicals have been manufactured since the 1950s and are prized for their indestructible and non-stick properties. They are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, manufacturing, and electronics, and are found in everyday products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foam, food packaging, cosmetics, and many more.
Most PFAS are so well designed and robust that they won’t break down in the environment for tens of thousands of years, earning them the moniker “forever chemicals.” As a result, everyone is potentially exposed to these chemicals.
However, those who are most affected by PFAS are individuals who live near industrial facilities that manufacture or use PFAS, as well as those who have been exposed to PFAS through contamination, such as military personnel, firefighters, chemical, food, cosmetic, and textile manufacturers.
These popular chemicals can enter the body by being absorbed through the skin, breathing, or swallowing. For those who wear eye makeup, PFAS can even enter through the tear ducts.
Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS can lead to a range of health effects, including increased cholesterol levels, decreased immune response, and negative effects on fetal development and growth. Additionally, some PFAS have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. And when illnesses get linked to chemicals used in consumer products, lawsuits are likely to follow.
Some are dubbing PFAS the “new asbestos,” which started to be linked to serious health issues in the late 1960s. The insurance industry has since paid out an estimated $100 billion in claims, according to AM Best.
It’s easy to see why insurers are nervous about PFAS and are starting to deny coverage to companies linked to PFAS. The reason? One big claim could put the insurance carrier out of business.
How to Protect Your Company
- Investigate and understand the company’s link to PFAS.
- Have thoughtful discussions with your insurance broker to see if your business is exposed to PFAS. Ask if they can provide some sort of relief or extension of coverage. Include the proper indemnification and hold-harmless wording in contracts.
- Consider captive insurance. It may be necessary to help tailor coverage for hard-to-insure and/or emerging risks, such as PFAS.
- Work with your broker to see if you can extend existing coverage for another 1-3 years. Discuss adding sublimit coverage to your pollution liability policy.
- Be aware of the potential sources of PFAS exposure and reduce such exposure when possible. This may include using alternative products that do not contain PFAS and ensuring that drinking water is tested for PFAS contamination.
Taking these steps can help protect the health of employees and companies, while reducing the potential negative impact of PFAS on the environment.
To learn more about how PFAS can affect your organization and how Oswald can provide risk management recommendations and resources. visit our Property & Casualty page or contact me directly:
Cody Geisler, CLCS
Note: This communication is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to offer legal, tax, or client-specific risk management advice. Information in this communication is not meant to describe specific coverages that may be advisable or available to you or your company, or to interpret specific coverages that may already be in place. General insurance descriptions in this communication do not include complete insurance policy definitions, terms, and/or conditions, and should not be relied on for coverage interpretation. Actual insurance policies must always be consulted for full coverage details and analysis. View our privacy notice.