Alexandra Kleeman Discusses Liabilities for Real Estate Industry That May Occur From Greater Regulation of ‘Forever Chemicals’

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Environmental and real estate partner Alexandra Kleeman contributed an article to Reuters Legal News titled “Impacts of ‘forever chemicals’ on real estate transactions,” published March 11, 2022. The article discusses PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” whose pervasiveness and longevity in the environment may lead to increased environmental regulations and possible greater liabilities for the real estate industry.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS or PFOAS) comprise a large family of synthetic chemical compounds with many useful applications related to their property of lowering the surface tension between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid. The compounds are used in a wide range of applications — from nonstick coatings for pans to structural resins in building materials.

PFAS and PFOAS with longer molecular chains tend to last longer in the environment, posing a potential risk to human health, among other environmental concerns, through the length of time the chemical has to accumulate in human tissue. The long-term risks of exposure to PFAS are not fully understood, but studies suggest that exposure to PFAS can result in several human health conditions. The compounds are difficult, and expensive, to remove from the environment.

Kleeman notes that though current state and federal guidance on PFAS and PFOAS largely applies to drinking water, several agencies have begun to take steps that will likely broaden the regulatory landscape and may impact the real estate industry.

“Regulations for PFAS in drinking water are unlikely to have significant impacts on most private sector standard real estate transactions,” she writes. “However, the developing guidance on PFAS as hazardous substances in other environmental media could result in unexpected future liabilities, particularly with respect to liabilities resulting from [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] and [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] regulations and their state corollaries.”

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Alexandra Kleeman
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