Some chemicals in the environment break down slowly, and as a result they become chemicals with consequences. There is a group of such persistent chemicals, perfluoroalky substances and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS for short. They have a strong bond between fluorine and a carbon making it difficult in the environment or in the body to break it down. As they repel both oils and water, they have been very popular in the industry. These substances are found in Teflon non-stick products, in water repellents, cleaning products, food packaging or firefighting foam. This was reviewed in a health article in CNN.
Health impact of PFAS
PFAS can have a variety of health impacts on the body. They can affect the liver and the thyroid. There can be fertility problems. PFAS can cause obesity, a high cholesterol, hormone suppression and cancer. PFAS can also migrate into the air, become part of dust, get into our food, soil and water. Some food packaging also contains PFAS. There is concern about accumulation of these chemicals in the body. “I think that people should be concerned about the amount of PFOA and PFOS that is in our environment,” Susan M. Pinney, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati, said. “These are chemicals with long half-lives.”
Regulators attempt to fight back
As a result of the regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, 3M in the US has voluntarily stopped the production of PFAS and the related PFOA. Another similar chemical, GenX, has taken its place. Pinney said that GenX may be just as persistent as PFAS. The EPA is attempting to clean up all of the sources of drinking water. The Environmental Working Group found that 1,500 drinking water systems that serve nearly 110 million Americans may be contaminated with the chemicals. Adding activated carbon filters to the water systems will likely help eliminate PFAS and similar substances.
Problems at the department of defence in the US
Even the department of defence found PFAS in drinking water in at least 400 active or closed military installations. Often the contamination goes back to firefighting foam, which migrated into ground water. The department of defence found at least 36 military installations where the PFAS levels exceeded the recommended EPA levels.
The chemical industry produces many products that are useful in modern life. However, perfluoroalky substances and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short, are an exception. They were useful for Teflon non-stick products, for water repellent applications, cleaning products, food packaging or firefighting foam. But the health risks are simply too great. The problem is a very stable chemical bond between fluorine and carbon. This does not allow nature to clean this substance from the environment. The human body is also not able to eliminate it though detoxification. Now a new way to detoxify the water system is now available by adding activated carbon filters to the water systems. Gradually PFAS is phased out and replaced by other substances, which are hopefully less detrimental to our health.