Unravelling the Impacts of Efficient Substances from Manufactured Products

By Patrice Houle | Published April 11, 2024

The world we live in is constantly changing and accordingly, the products manufactured by clients are evolving in line with new technologies and customer needs. Developing technologies help companies improve their manufacturing processes to become more efficient and produce more durable products. Through scientific discovery, we better understand the environmental impact of these products, whose lifespan at times exceed the projections of their creators. One prevalent trend in manufacturing today involves per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS).


Commonly known as perfluoroalkoxy alkanes and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a wide range of chemicals, including Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), GenX, phthalates and many others; the polymer is often used as the foundation in the manufacturing of a multiplicity of products. Advantages that justify the use of PFAS include a high resistance to extreme temperatures and hostile environments, such as contact with chemicals and thermal or mechanical stress. Products containing PFAS are therefore more resistant to heat, corrosive products and friction. PFAS also help to make certain products water-resistant. These undeniable advantages resulted in their growing use from 1940 onwards.


PFAS are commonly found in products many people use daily, from sportswear – which utilize PFAS for resistance to stains, water and sweat – to the foam used by firefighters to extinguish fires involving hazardous materials. They can also be found in food packaging and plastic containers. This packaging, however, can contaminate the food inside – especially bottled water. PFAS can affect agriculture since soil can be contaminated (e.g. composting, pesticides, herbicides). Common household products for stain resistance (e.g. plastic dishes, aprons, dishcloths), to prevent food from sticking to pans (e.g. Teflon), polishers, wax, paint and cleaning products (including soap balls for dishwashers and washing machines) also contain PFAS.[1] 


PFAS are generally categorized as “forever chemicals”, since they do not decompose. Their presence in the environment remains infinite. They are, therefore, highly persistent pollutants with long-term impacts. As a result, it is very difficult to assess their overall impact throughout time. Unfortunately, many products find their way into the water – particularly from clothes or fabrics that have been in contact with cleaning products – which we drink but which are also ingested by animals, particularly fish. This means we absorb them when we eat these foods. These substances remain in the human body permanently, and we don't fully understand the impact this can have on our health. Phthalates, in particular, have been associated with bodily injuries such as damage to the nervous system, the reproductive system, cognitive dysfunction and more. The consequences of ingesting PFAS may include increased diabetes-related disorders, infertility, liver and thyroid damage and motor dysfunction.


Considering the long-term impact these substances have on the environment, wildlife and the human body, insurers are now questioning the coverages offered and their appetite. What's more is that these types of exposures create heightened potential for class action suits. This situation will need to be monitored to ensure that exposures in certain risk classes are adequately underwritten.


It's vital to understand our insureds’ products and processes, to ensure their coverage aligns with their needs. However, it is just as essential to understand the scope of all exposures. As technology continues to advance and manufacturing processes evolve, the impact of these substances will become clearer. In conclusion, it becomes ever more important for underwriters and brokers alike to communicate changing exposures with clients.



[1] PFAS Explained, EPA 2023

In Canada, products and/or services described are provided by Continental Casualty Company, a CNA property/casualty insurance company. The information is intended to present a general overview for illustrative purposes only. Read CNA’s General Disclaimer.

Patrice Houle
Underwriting Manager

Patrice Houle is an Underwriting Manager at CNA Canada. He has more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry, during which he has gained expertise in sales and coaching. Prior to joining CNA Canada in 2019, he gained experience at Meloche Monnex and Northbridge. He specializes in commercial underwriting with a focus on the manufacturing segment. Based out of the Montreal office, his responsibilities include developing new business, managing the commercial mid-market team and training new underwriters. He is the primary contact for mid-market business in the Maritimes.