Read the full article by Pat Rizzuto (Bloomberg Law)
“Hank Schwedes was driving in heavy traffic near his Morrisville, Pa., home when the car ahead of him suddenly stopped—and to Schwedes’ surprise, so did his.
‘I wasn’t stopping quickly enough, so my car reacted before I did,’ said Schwedes, who hadn’t known until that moment that his new Subaru Outback was equipped with a futuristic crash prevention system. ‘It’s a good safety feature.’
The feature relies on information traveling instantaneously to the car’s braking system, the type of data-transfer speed that will allow nascent 5G wireless networks to transform how we work, play, and make money.
But key to delivering data at lightning speed are members of the PFAS family of synthetic compounds linked to health problems and lawsuits. And that’s an issue for some who study the so-called forever chemicals.
‘Producing chemicals that don’t break down is a dangerous practice,’ said Rainer Lohmann, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Superfund Research Center focused on PFAS.
‘They’re a Problem’
But the market for fluoropolymers—a subset of PFAS that help equipment deliver data in 5G’s millimeter radio wave frequency—is about to explode, said Anthony Schiavo, a senior analyst with Lux Research Inc., an investment consulting firm focused on emerging technologies.
The fluoropolymers that are most useful in 5G include Teflon chemicals like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), he said.
‘PTFE is safe if it’s finished and pure,’ said Alan Ducatman, a professor emeritus at West Virginia University, and a witness for plaintiffs alleging injury from PFAS.
But ‘it’s not 100% pure—it never is,’ he said during a webinar last month. ‘As it’s made, it creates pollution.’
There’s an argument that fluoropolymers themselves pose relatively few problems, Lohmann said. They’re a type of a chemical, called a polymer, whose tightly-bound strings of repeating groups of atoms are too big to get into human cells. In fact, many countries consider polymers of little risk as finished chemicals.
But fluoropolymers are manufactured by using other PFAS chemicals, which can get released during production or years later, when materials containing them degrade, Lohmann said.
‘Unless industry can produce fluoropolymers in safer ways,’ he said. ‘They’re a problem.’
Must Not Fail
They’re also a solution when it comes to equipment that must not fail—in cars, airplanes, spacecraft, military applications, and even health care—said Rigoberto Advincula, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s department of macromolecular science and engineering.
Fluoropolymers are essential for implantable medical devices like stents and catheters, because they’re so inert they neither harm the body nor let bacteria attack the equipment, he said.
Fluoropolymers’ long lives and resistance to heat and corrosion allow equipment to be safer and last longer, said Advincula, whose research focuses on polymers. And when it comes to 5G, they’re particularly good wire insulators, which helps high-frequency data transmissions get where they’re going.
On the roads, the collision warning-and-braking technology becoming standard in new cars like Schwede’s—many of which rely on parts containing fluoropolymers—has cut rear-end collisions resulting in injuries by 56%, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety…”