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PFAS 101: What insurers should know about “forever chemicals”

What do non-stick cookware, firefighting foam, carpeting, Antarctic penguin eggs, and your raincoat have in common?1 They may all contain per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Clear glass style rendering of molecules.

PFAS could represent a significant liability exposure for some insurers.

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are seemingly ubiquitous. And we don’t just mean that they’re used in a wide range of products, though they are. One study found that PFAS have been found in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.2 They’ve reportedly leached into our soil, air, and oceans and, as a result, penetrated into remote corners of the globe—including those penguin eggs.3

PFAS linked to adverse health outcomes

PFAS apparently earned their nickname because their chemical composition (a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms) resists breaking down. In fact, scientists have been unable to calculate just how long they can persist in the environment.4

This has naturally given rise to a corollary concern: Are PFAS chemicals dangerous?

According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, research conducted on PFAS chemicals done to date “reveals possible links between human exposures to PFAS and adverse health outcomes.”5 These outcomes include: “Altered metabolism, fertility, reduced fetal growth and increased risk of being overweight or obese, and reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections.”6

Litigation ramps up

As researchers have learned more about the potential harms of PFAS, litigation has apparently followed. To date, much of this activity has focused on chemical manufacturers.7 Settlements in PFAS cases have already topped $1 billion dollars, and many cases are reportedly pending.8 For some insurers, PFAS could represent a significant liability exposure, particularly as lawsuits begin to target not just chemical companies, but also manufacturers of products that incorporate PFAS.9

Learn more about PFAS

If you’re interested in learning more about PFAS, don’t miss our upcoming webinar on Tuesday, March 22 at 11 a.m. ET with Dr. Rainer Lohmann, Professor at the University of Rhode Island, and Director of STEEP (Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFAS), a research center sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The presentation is expected to highlight current trends in PFAS research, with a particular focus on how PFAS behave in the marine environment. Prof. Lohmann plans to also touch upon the chemistry of PFAS, their health effects, and current efforts to regulate, replace, or remediate PFAS.

Prof. Lohmann has well over 20 years of experience as a scientist and leads one of only 23 superfund research centers in the United States. A highly regarded oceanographer and chemist, Prof. Lohmann’s research focuses on the transport and fate of recalcitrant organic compounds, including pollutants such as PFAS.

Andrew Blancher, CPCU

Andrew Blancher, CPCU, is director of commercial automobile product development and Emerging Issues at Verisk. You can contact him at

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  1. Tom Perkins, “PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ constantly cycle through ground, air and water, study finds,” The Guardian, December 18, 2021, < >, accessed on March 3, 2022.
  2. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, < >, accessed on March 3, 2022.
  3. “PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ constantly cycle through ground, air and water, study finds”
  4. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. John Gardella, “PFAS Product Liability Cases – Are the Floodgates Now Open?” The National Law Review, January 12, 2021, < >, accessed on March 3, 2022.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.

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