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June 27, 2024

PFAS and Real Estate FAQs

By Kathryn Peacock and Steven Luzkow

PFAS and Real Estate FAQs

This guide will answer the most frequently asked questions about PFAS, providing you with clear and concise information. Simply click on the questions below to jump directly to the relevant answers.

What are PFAS?

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in various industrial applications and consumer products since the 1940s. They are known for their resistance to water, oil, and heat, which makes them useful in products like non-stick cookware (e.g., Teflon), water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foams, and food packaging.
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Why are PFAS a concern?

PFAS are forever chemicals and very mobile, able to travel long distances in the environment via air, surface water, and groundwater. They may also pose serious health risks, including reproductive and developmental effects, increased risk of cancers, hormone interference, increase of cholesterol levels, and reduced ability to fight infections.
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What are the sources of contamination for PFAS?

Industries that are known PFAS contributors include commercial printing, electronics, plating, fabric and textiles, cosmetics manufacturers, fire protection, food packaging, mining, airports, and more.

People may come into contact with PFAS through:

  • Indoor air, ambient air, dust, and soil, as well as occupational exposure (e.g., during firefighting duties),
  • Manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of PFAS or PFAS-containing products.
  • PFAS may be present in/released from, building materials, textiles, and consumer products in residential environments.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides a map of PFAS contaminated sites in the U.S.


PFAS and Real Estate FAQs & PFAS Sources in the Environment Graphic
Source: https://scdhec.gov/environment/polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas

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What do I need to know about EPA’s recent ruling regarding PFAS?

EPA finalized the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS chemicals, which establishes safe drinking water levels referred to as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs).  The EPA also issued a final rule to designate two of the most widely used categories of PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) also known as Superfund. The rule is effective as of July 8, 2024.

This means PFAS could expose real estate investors, developers, owners, and operators to cleanup obligations and costs, as well as environmental damages and liability for human health risks from exposure to these substances. Therefore, in order to have certain liability protections afforded under CERCLA, prospective purchasers must evaluate PFAS within the scope established under the Act (42 U.S. § 9601). Notably, PFAS risk will be evaluated in Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) in the same manner as other hazardous substances.
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How does the EPA ruling affect the commercial real estate industry?

More properties will have RECs (recognized environmental conditions) during Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, but the increase may not be significant. Many sites where PFAS contamination is identified as a likely or known REC already have existing RECs due to other factors or operations, such as manufacturing activities that heavily use solvents alongside PFAS.

Some sites that were previously remediated and “closed” (for ex. received a “no further action” letter from a regulator) may potentially be reopened, but this remains to be seen and will likely be focused on high priority sites that are posing high risk to public health.
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How do I know if my property is contaminated?

The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment helps identify known or potential environmental conditions that may impact the subject property. An Environmental Professional will evaluate past and present conditions of the site, review historical records for the site, and conduct a visit to identify potential environmental risks to the property. If the Phase I ESA identifies potential concerns or RECs related to PFAS, a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment may be conducted to test soil, groundwater, and other media for PFAS contamination.
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Will PFAS contamination impact property value?

PFAS contamination can significantly impact the property value, so real estate owners and operations will need to examine their exposure to PFAS risk within their portfolio. For transactions, conducting due diligence assessments of PFAS sources will be vital. As for existing owners, higher risk property types should be evaluated for potential PFAS risk and if necessary, make a plan to mitigate those risks.
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What do I do if my property is contaminated with PFAS?

Partner can provide a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment to identify whether PFAS sources may be impacting the site. And if there is risk of PFAS contamination, Partner may conduct a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment to collect soil, groundwater, and/or soil vapor samples from the subsurface to analyze for contamination.

Once a Phase II ESA is completed, and if environmental remediation is necessary, Partner’s remediation engineers and scientists will design a cost-effective remediation process and implement the action plan to help clients clean up the site.
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Contact Partner for more information.

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