Read the full article by Zoë Schlanger

“In a decision announced Friday (Sept. 21) in Rome, a group of UN experts tasked with deciding which chemicals should be globally banned under the Stockholm Convention decided to add PFOA and PFOS to the list.

These two chemicals, both in the PFAS family, are at the center of a the biggest drinking-water contamination scandal in a generation in the US—and more recently, Australia—where towns are finding it in their water supply near military bases and old factories.

At this point, most people in the US have been exposed to chemicals in the PFAS family, and water supplies of tens of millions are likely contaminated with them.

PFAS chemicals have been linked to a range of health risks including cancer, immune-system issues, and developmental problems in fetuses.

The group of UN experts—the review committee of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants—made the recommendation to globally ban both PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, an ingredient in Teflon, the chemical used to make non-stick cookware, as well as waterproofed clothing and other products) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate, often used as a firefighting foam, especially at airports and on military bases). The sole exception for PFOS would be for use in implantable medical devices, and would expire in five years…

The recommendation will be introduced at the next UN Conference of the Parties, in 2019. If adopted—and thus far, every recommendation of the committee has been adopted—it would be legally binding for the 181 countries plus the European Union that are party to the Stockholm Convention.

While some countries may be slow to implement such a ban, it will likely have the biggest effect among the companies that produce the chemicals, according to Pamela Miller, who attended the committee meeting in Rome and co-chairs IPEN, a nonprofit focused on reducing or eliminating hazardous chemicals. ‘It sends a signal to the industry and that’s a beginning of the end for that use.’

The ban has the biggest potential to change the face of the chemical industry in countries like China, where factories are still making PFOA and other fluorinated chemicals in earnest (production of PFOA ceased in the US in 2015). But the ban has the potential to be felt globally, since PFAS continue circulating in the environment—and in people’s bodies—for generations. Like other “persistent organic pollutants,” they even make it to the Arctic, where no PFAS are manufactured. There, they accumulate in animals that indigenous communities rely on for food. PFOA, for example, has been found to be increasing the risk for breast cancer among Inuit women in Greenland.”