Home Articles How the City of Stuart, Florida, Fought “Forever Chemicals”

How the City of Stuart, Florida, Fought “Forever Chemicals”

Photo 291758872 © Francesco Scatena | Dreamstime.com
(Photo 291758872 © Francesco Scatena | Dreamstime.com)

In recent years, the City of Stuart, Florida, has become a notable case study in the battle against per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the “forever chemicals.” They are synthetic chemicals found in various consumer products and industrial applications and are notorious for their persistence in the environment.

This article explores how Stuart, a small city in Florida, identified the problem, took decisive action, and implemented effective solutions.

Understanding the PFAS Problem

PFAS is a group of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals used in various products since the 1940s. As TIME Magazine lists, these can be easily found in household items like furniture, electronics, nonstick cookware, tap water, and more. They are even present in occupational items like aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF).

Their strong carbon-fluorine bonds make them resistant to degradation, earning them the moniker “forever chemicals.” While these properties benefit product durability, they pose significant challenges when PFAS enter the environment and human water supplies.

Faith Based Events

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to various health issues, including thyroid disease, liver damage, cancer, and developmental problems in children. 

An NCBI study concludes that it has recently been associated with type 2 diabetes, too. Several studies have found links between per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance levels in blood and glycemic markers of type 2 diabetes. However, the relationship between per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance exposure and the development of diabetes remains a source of debate.

These chemicals’ pervasive nature and resistance to natural breakdown means they can accumulate in the human body over time. This increases the potential for adverse health effects in people who are constantly exposed to high PFAS levels. For example, firefighters frequently use per and poly-fluoroalkyl substance-based AFFF to suppress fires.

According to TorHoerman Law, this puts firefighters at a higher risk of developing health problems associated with the chemicals. Therefore, those exposed and who went on to develop some medical condition have filed an AFFF lawsuit against the manufacturer. They claim that manufacturers neglected to notify them of the possible health dangers linked with their products.

The manufacturers facing these per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances lawsuits include 3M, DuPont, Chemours, and others. To ensure smooth proceedings, these cases have now been consolidated into AFFF multidistrict litigation, and over 8,000 cases are currently pending. If you were exposed to PFAS through these products, you can also file an AFFF lawsuit and become a part of this MDL.

Stuart’s Discovery of PFAS Contamination

Stuart’s journey began in 2016 when the city discovered elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances in its water supply. Routine testing revealed that the contamination originated from a local firefighting training facility where PFAS-containing foams had been used extensively. 

The levels detected were well above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory limits, prompting immediate concern among city officials and residents.

The contamination news was alarming because the city’s water supply is drawn from local groundwater sources. Protecting these sources became a top priority for Stuart’s municipal authorities, who recognized the urgent need to address the contamination.

Initial Response and Public Engagement

Upon confirming the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, the City of Stuart quickly mobilized to inform the public. In parallel, the city began investigating the extent of the contamination and exploring potential solutions. 

This included mapping the affected areas, identifying all possible sources of the chemicals, and testing water from different parts of the city. This helped determine the spread and concentration of the chemicals.

Since the issue arose in 2016, there was little help available for contamination of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances back then. They didn’t even have any partners to help tackle the situation or know who else was facing similar problems. So, what they did was largely on a trial-and-error basis, conducting performance testing after every change.

As stated in a Fox News article, the city relied on ion exchange technology to lower PFAS levels in the water. The two major chemicals found in their water system were perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

These resins attract and bind certain pollutants, such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, efficiently eliminating them from water. The combination of GAC and ion exchange technologies offered a strong resistance against various PFAS chemicals.

Financial and Regulatory Challenges

Addressing PFAS contamination requires substantial investment. The City of Stuart faced significant financial burdens, with initial estimates for remediation efforts running into millions of dollars. The city sought state and federal assistance to mitigate these costs, applying for grants and low-interest loans for environmental cleanup projects.

Stuart’s officials also worked closely with regulatory bodies to ensure compliance with emerging standards for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. This collaboration was crucial in securing support and funding for their remediation efforts.

The city also represents hundreds of communities across the US in their fight against 3M, one of the manufacturers of PFAS products. As noted by WPTV, the firefighters in the city used to play with AFFF and simply hose it down in the ground. This was because they were not aware of the potential problems back then.

As firefighters and people became aware, the city started fighting the chemicals and manufacturers. It is now at the forefront of receiving compensation for PFAS contamination cleaning from an over $10 billion settlement made with 3M.

Community Involvement and Education

Throughout the remediation process, community involvement and education remained a priority. The city established a dedicated website and social media channels to inform residents. Educational programs were launched to explain the health risks associated with these chemicals and the importance of ongoing remediation efforts.

Stuart’s officials’ proactive approach fostered a sense of community resilience and trust. Residents were encouraged to participate in water testing programs and provide feedback on the city’s efforts. This helped ensure that the public remained an integral part of the decision-making process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you eliminate chemicals forever?

Sophisticated ways for breaking down PFAS are being explored, including high-temperature incineration and sophisticated oxidation processes. High-temperature incineration burns per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances at extremely high temperatures, which can disrupt the strong carbon-fluorine bonds. Advanced oxidation techniques employ strong oxidizing chemicals frequently combined with UV radiation to break down PFAS.

How does one remove chemicals from water?

Granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration effectively removes various organic pollutants from water, including certain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances chemicals. Another option is reverse osmosis, which employs a semipermeable membrane to filter water under pressure and remove various pollutants, including PFAS. Ion exchange resins can also eliminate these chemicals by replacing hazardous ions in water with less damaging ones.

What items contain PFAS chemicals?

Due to their resistance to water, grease, and stains, PFAS compounds are often found in various consumer and commercial applications. These include nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothes, stain-resistant textiles and carpets, firefighting foams, and food packaging materials.

In conclusion, Stuart, Florida’s determination and leadership in combating PFAS contamination highlight the critical importance of community-driven action and corporate accountability. The city’s efforts have set a precedent for addressing environmental challenges, paving the way for a healthier and more sustainable future.