A half a millennium ago the Renaissance Physician Philosopher Parcelsus wrote "only the dose makes the poison." Modern day Government Risk Assessors apply Paracelsus's wisdom to the contamination of soil and water by determining the largest dose of a chemical at which no adverse effect on humans or other organisms is observed. That "dose" is usually measured in parts per billion which is roughly equivalent to a drop of water in a swimming pool. All of this risk assessing takes time. In the meantime confusion and outright panic can reign.
Which brings us to PFAS, a family of dozens of chemicals which we are coming to learn have been used in a wide range of products. Over the past few years we've developed the ability to detect PFAS in parts per trillion. We're finding they are more ubiquitous in the environment than we would have hoped, albeit usually at infinitesimally small concentrations.
Because the Risk Assessors who work for the Federal Government haven't yet done their thing, there is no Federal PFAS standard. A dozen or so States have filled this void with standards of their own. And Plaintiffs' lawyers have filed hundreds and hundreds of cases arguing for standards of their own. And so, as this article and the position paper mentioned in it say, staggering costs are being incurred, not only for clean up but also for litigation among the countless public and private sector actors whose lives have been touched by PFAS. There is much more of that to come. The sooner science is brought to bear to answer Paracelsus's question for PFAS, the better.
“PFAS contamination is imposing tremendous financial, health, and environmental costs on states and localities while allowing those who created the problem to avoid or minimize financial responsibility for the harm caused by their pollution.”