An Introduction to PFAS for Property/Casualty Insurers

A close up of molecules
By Greg Scoblete  CPCU

What’s PFAS?

PFAS stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances but you may know them by their more ominous moniker: “forever chemicals.”

They’ve earned the nickname because PFAS tend to persist in the environment and resist breaking down. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), “PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest, these chemicals do not degrade in the environment.”

PFAS aren’t just stubbornly persistent, they’re ubiquitous. They’re used in a range of products including cookware, clothing, carpets, and fire-fighting foam, to name a few. According to the NIEHS, PFAS chemicals have leached into our soil, air, and water and have been found in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.

What are some of the concerns?

According to the NIEHS, research conducted on PFAS chemicals done to date “reveals possible links between human exposures to PFAS and adverse health outcomes.”

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.”

Are PFAS becoming a major liability exposure?

There have already been over $1 billion in settlements paid to date related to the allegedly deleterious environmental and health effects caused by PFAS. But the liability exposure may be significantly greater.

This report seeks to identify the mechanisms by which PFAS could continue to generate liability losses by using three of the emerging risk factors previously identified by Verisk’s Emerging Issues and Arium teams.

Those factors are evident harm, cultural relevance, and substitution.

Briefly, evident harm refers to a causal connection between a risk and resulting harms. Cultural relevance is determined, in part, by media and cultural attention to the issue—as public awareness spreads, the potential grows for litigation, legislation, and regulatory action. Finally, substitution refers to the danger of replacing one harmful product with another that turns out to be just as harmful, if not more so.

To learn more, read the full report.

You can track some of the latest developments concerning PFAS on our topics page. 


“Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS),” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, January 3, 2023. Accessed on March 7, 2023.

John Gardella, “PFAS Product Liability Cases – Are the Floodgates Now Open?” National Law Review, January 12, 2021. Accessed on March 7, 2023.

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