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Dark Waters hits theaters today. The movie tells the true story of a corporate environmental defense attorney who follows two farmers’ hunch that a DuPont plant was knowingly exposing a West Virginia community to dangerous chemicals. This movie brings to light a shocking issue involving our natural resources — and it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. 

The problem is centered around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). If humans or animals ingest PFAS (for example, by drinking contaminated water), the substance can accumulate and stay in the body for a long time. Studies indicate that some of these substances can cause cancer and other adverse health effects. Since they are highly soluble and leach into living things, PFAS create a big problem when they spread to the environment. 

Unfortunately, PFAS are found in a variety of things we all use. For example, some food has packaging that contains PFAS. Many household products like Teflon pots and pans, cleaning chemicals, and water-repellent fabrics also contain PFAS. Aqueous film-forming foams, manufactured by companies like DuPont and 3M, are used in firefighting — one of the biggest reasons that the chemicals have reached the drinking water of communities around the country

So, it makes sense that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has faced pressure from a variety of environmental and health groups. Recently, the Agency said it plans to regulate two substances that fall into the category of what many call “forever chemicals.” The EPA’s agenda includes both deregulatory actions and new regulations over the next year. There are currently a multitude of lawsuits against companies that make these harmful substances and sell them for use in military bases, fire stations, and other places. Judge Richard M. Gergel of the US District Court for the District of South Carolina granted a multidistrict litigation of lawsuits against 3M, National Foam, Tyco Fire Products, Buckeye Fire Protection, the County of Suffolk, and Chemguard Inc. It is probable the release of this film will bring this topic even more into the public discourse and potentially ignite a new public firestorm over forever chemicals, their prevalence, and their effects.

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