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Guide to navigating PFAS risks

By Harris Wiener , Eduardo Benatuil and Brian McBride | January 4, 2023

Businesses and the insurance industry are currently in the early-to-intermediate stages of dealing with the effects and treatment of PFAS, the “forever chemicals.”

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS, is the name given to thousands of manufactured chemicals used in industrial and consumer applications to impart water, heat, stain, or grease resistance qualities onto certain finished products.1 Industrial and household products that may contain PFAS include, but are not limited to, adhesives, packaging, clothing, upholstery, carpets, non-stick cookware and paints.2 PFAS are also found in certain types of fire extinguishing foams, commonly known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), used to extinguish flammable liquid-based fires. Airports, military facilities, shipyards, firefighting training facilities, chemical plants and refineries are all locations that could potentially employ PFAS-containing AFFFs in their industrial safety processes.3

PFAS have been called “forever chemicals” because the carbon-fluorine components of PFAS break down very slowly over time.4 Given their slow degradation properties, PFAS has been found in drinking water, ground water, and soil at or near manufacturing and waste sites, and, in some instances, have made their way into finished fish and dairy products made from animals exposed to PFAS.5 This is in addition to the myriad consumer products which contain or are treated with PFAS. Exposure to PFAS has allegedly been linked to numerous health defects, such as decreased fertility, developmental effects or delays in children, increased risk of some cancers, such as prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, and interference with the body’s natural hormones.6 However, there is ongoing debate over the causation issues and exactly how PFAS can impact health in specific ways. Corporate manufacturers, governments, and academia are still studying this issue.

Litigation over these “forever chemicals” is no longer solely focused on lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers, but now includes as defendants, companies that incorporate PFAS into their finished products or industrial safety processes. An aggressive plaintiff’s bar, the rise of private, third-party litigation funding and shifting make up of jury pools, along with the desensitized nature of jurors, have contributed to the prevalence and severity of these awards. At the same time, agencies and legislatures at the federal and state levels are accelerating their review of PFAS, and their effects on the population, leading to increased government regulation. In this context, clients of different industry classes, sizes and operations might not be aware of their exposure to this risk, or the potential for losses involving these products. There are several proactive steps that can be taken to address these risks and address coverage concerns surrounding these exposures.

For more information on how to navigate PFAS risks, please download the full report below.


1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control: Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet
2 Id.
3 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS
4 Id
5 Id.
6 Id.


Willis Towers Watson hopes you found the general information provided in this publication informative and helpful. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal advisors. In the event you would like more information regarding your insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. In North America, Willis Towers Watson offers insurance products through licensed entities, including Willis Towers Watson Northeast, Inc. (in the United States) and Willis Canada Inc. (in Canada).

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Guide to navigating PFAS risks PDF 1 MB

Head Coverage Officer, North America
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Head of Environmental Broking, WTW

Brian is the Head of Environmental Broking in North America for WTW. Drawing from over 30 years of environmental consulting, underwriting and brokerage experience, he leads the insurance industry’s premier team of environmental specialty brokers who negotiate over $250m in premium placements annually.

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