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  • Writer's pictureStan Clemens

The Battle to Eliminate PFAS Is A New Industrial Cause. Hemp Will Be Part of It.




Appleton, WI. March 20th 2024

It's yet another teaching moment in the history of technology, where something that we once thought to be a wonderful is actually a grave threat. Such as we learned in the lessons of asbestos or oxycodone, just two of many examples, so now it is with PFAS, a word, or acronym, that will be dominating the news for the foreseeable future. If you haven't heard about it, it's been part of your entire life, and it is a wonderfully useful chemical, actually a family of Perfluoralkyl Substances with at least 15,000 permutations, one of the most famous being Teflon invented by DuPont. These PFAS are the opposite of biodegradable, and so they end up in your fat tissue, your local rivers and in the rain which moves it around the globe without restriction. Don't think you're going to avoid it, you already have it. This fact should allay some paranoia about "catching it" because it's already got you. What's unclear is what it will do to you and your kids.

One of the big issues now for many industries is how to take action to 1) Switch to non-PFAS alternatives, since it is being phased out by 3M and other manufacturers, and 2) How to get ahead of new laws and liability that could shut companies down left and right, not just from lawsuits, but also insurance carriers who will cut you off for making use of PFAS. This was the focus of today's GBIG conference in Appleton, WI, attended by a diverse group of industry representatives, with support from a couple of law firms and leading UW scientists.

The takeaways from the meeting:

1. This is big and only getting started, worldwide.

2. The government is advising that transparency and due diligence are the best defense against future penalties and liability.

3. There is no single culprit to blame, since PFAS have been very valuable to many products going back decades. That said, we can easily blame DuPont and 3M for knowing their danger, going back decades, so this is another teaching moment, not to trust the chemical industry. This has been common knowledge in much of the world, but we have only ourselves, elected officials and corrupt judges to blame.

A Molecular Model of PFAS, Polyfluoroalkyl Substances


What was interesting about the meeting was the tone. Instead of doom and gloom, there is a sense that a new cause is emerging, and this is where the alignment with the environmental movement, and hemp as an ally, can be made. Hemp is also a cause, seeking to become and industry, so we are making the case that hemp's capacity to remove PFAS from the soil should be part of the equation.

PFAS remediation is promising to be a growth industry of its own, starting with education in small towns across the state, with substantial job opportunities and educational incentives for young students who start taking on PFAS testing and awareness.

The role of hemp in this drama will be both technical and cultural. Practically speaking, hemp is an excellent remediator of toxins in the soil, including PFAS, but also for a wide range of chemicals . On a cultural perspective, this plant can be literally a partner of industry and economics that is not based on its role as a commodity, whether marijuana, CBD, rope or textiles. In this case its simply a filtration tool in the class of phytoremediators, or plants that clean the soil. This opens the door to many other plant-based partnerships, where the human beings might be able to pull themselves out of another hole of their own making.

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