The average person consumes approximately half a gallon of water daily, but this water isn't pure, as filtration systems sometimes allow pollutants to pass through. One particularly infamous group of pollutants, known as "forever chemicals," poses significant threats to both the environment and human health.
These persistent pollutants are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), an issue Simpson Street Free Press has been diligently covering for the past several years. They earned the name "forever chemicals" due to their indestructible resistance to biodegradation. PFAS are byproducts created during the manufacture of various products, including sticky notes, nonstick pans, packaging materials, carpets, and firefighting foam. These chemicals find their way into water sources such as the Mississippi River and local areas like Starkweather Creek, here in Madison. Even at extremely low concentrations, as low as 0.004 parts per trillion, PFAS can cause severe health problems, including low birth weight, kidney failure, and cancer.
Addressing these critical issues requires a reduction in PFAS contamination. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency and State Department of Natural Resources have attempted to establish regulations for these chemicals across the Midwest, their efforts have proven insufficient to halt the contamination. Consequently, over 20 states have denounced a proposed $10.5 billion settlement from a major PFAS producer, 3M.
3M, a manufacturing giant, generates PFAS as a byproduct of numerous items, including cleaning supplies and building materials. In response to the contamination of the longest river in the US, states along the Mississippi River and in the Midwest have united to take legal action against 3M and other manufacturers. While 3M has proposed a $10.5 billion settlement for cleanup and research, this offer, seemingly beneficial at first glance, comes with significant drawbacks. The settlement not only terminates this lawsuit but also any future litigation against 3M. Moreover, any future judgments by states against 3M would be deducted from this total, potentially allowing 3M to avoid paying the full amount over time. States have declined the offer, and the lawsuit remains ongoing. However, the legal battle extends beyond just 3M.
Another major PFAS producer is Dupont, a company founded in 1802 with involvement in various industries. Similar to 3M, Dupont manufactures PFAS, and in a parallel lawsuit, they offered a $1 billion settlement. Statewide, water systems spend approximately $3.8 billion annually to address PFAS contamination. In response, Wisconsin and three other states have rejected Dupont's offer, seeking higher compensation. Wisconsin's attorney general, Josh Kaul, remarked, "While that's a significant amount of money, it pales in comparison to the costs that are going to go into cleaning up PFAS contamination."
So, what can individuals do to contribute to a solution? Among the 8 billion people on Earth, each person represents a small fraction. Nonetheless, if you aspire to be part of the solution, consider reducing your consumption. If you buy nonstick cookware, you can use grease in a pan instead. If you use sticky notes, you can write on paper instead. It is within our collective power to make more sustainable choices.
[Sources: WKOW; SSFP Archives]