Read the full article by MENAFN – The Conversation

“(MENAFN – The Conversation) There’s a type of synthetic chemical which has been so widely used over the last 70 years that its remnants can be found in 99% of humans . Even low level exposure to this pollutant is known to increase the risks of several cancers (including breast , testicular and kidney ) birth defects and potentially around 800 other diseases , as was recently highlighted in the film Dark Waters .

Yet per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to be found in a huge range of consumer products , from Teflon cookware and Gore-Tex waterproof clothing to pizza boxes, dental floss and firefighting foams. Unfortunately, the same properties that make PFAS so useful, such as their durability, also make them infuriatingly stubborn to safely and sustainably dispose of. As a result, they are often nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’.

Scientists are working on a variety of ways to treat PFAS pollution, but many of these cannot completely destroy the carbon-fluorine chain. However, we and others are developing an ultrasound method that can completely degrade PFAS into relatively harmless carbon dioxide and fluoride.

Teflon (or polytetrafluoroethylene) was the first PFAS invented, created accidentally by Roy Plunkett in 1938. Since then, some 4,729 other PFAS have been produced. They all contain the same defining molecular feature, the ‘perfluoroalkyl group’, which is a string of carbon atoms surrounded by fluorine atoms.

PFAS are surfactants, meaning they act like soap to help mix substances that would normally separate, like oil and water. They also show outstanding resistance to typical pollution treatments, such as the use of ozone , bacteria or heating to temperatures of several hundred degrees .

PFAS are usually found in very low concentrations in the environment but they tend to accumulate in the human body and can become stuck in the liver and surrounding organs . As the concentration increases, PFAS cause damage to genes and liver cells, which contributes to several diseases.

Despite knowing the dangers of these substances since the 1950s , manufacturers were dumping waste PFAS into the environment until the early 2000s. Thankfully, the scandal was uncovered, largely due to American lawyer, Rob Bilott, as described in a New York Times article that inspired the 2019 Hollywood film Dark Waters . But the continued widespread use of PFAS in manufacturing means these compounds are still entering the environment when products are thrown away.

Estimates place total pollution at around 53,000 tonnes and annual production at 42,000 tonnes . Another 30,000 tonnes of PFAS-containing firefighting foams are stockpiled globally.

But we don’t really know how big a problem waste PFAS is, for several reasons. First, no records exist for the quantities dumped or emitted in firefighting foams and millions of household goods over the decades. In fact, manufacturers still aren’t required to report small-scale usage in thousands of products…”