Read the full article by Bella Isaacs-Thomas (PBS)
“When it comes to the United States phasing out PFAS, the ‘forever chemicals’ are true to their nickname in more ways than one. It’s not going to be straightforward or swift to eliminate these substances from countless industries, even though they have been potentially linked to myriad health issues.
Found in products like food packaging, clothes and firefighting foam, PFAS have contaminated drinking water sources nationwide since becoming commercially available in the middle of the last century, building up in the environment where they won’t break down for a very long time.
A recent study concluded that rainwater, surface water and ground soil across the globe is extensively contaminated with these chemicals to a point that cannot be reversed without expensive, advanced technological intervention.
‘This stuff is toxic at incredibly low levels and it’s persistent — it stays there for hundreds of years in the groundwater, thousands of years,’ said Graham Peaslee, a Notre Dame professor and researcher who’s tested many products for PFAS in his lab. ‘And that means the next generations will be drinking it, and that’s not the kind of legacy we want to leave our kids.’
It’s a familiar story that has played out before, from DDT to PCBs. A hazardous chemical is widely used, its adverse health and environmental effects are revealed far after the fact, scientists and other concerned parties ring the alarm, and the substance in question finally garners federal attention, sometimes in the form of improved regulation or, more rarely, a full-stop ban.
We’re well within the third act of that script when it comes to PFAS, with many researchers and consumers calling on industries and institutions to phase these chemicals out of their products, manufacturing processes and general use, and instead pursue safer alternatives that serve similar functions.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued two updated interim drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS — two legacy, or ‘long chain,’ and well-studied PFAS that have been phased out of manufacturing in the U.S. but are still used in other parts of the world and products or materials that contain them can be imported. The agency also issued advisories for two newer, ‘short chain’ PFAS known as PFBS and ‘GenX chemicals’ that were developed to replace the legacy substances yet are still problematic from a health and environmental standpoint.
Those EPA advisories don’t carry the force of law, PFAS are largely unregulated and nothing is stopping manufacturers from using the chemicals in their supply chains, which are often murky to begin with.
Companies face limited pressure — at least at the federal level — to get them out of their supply chains. Multiple states, though, have taken their own legislative steps toward phasing PFAS out or outright banning them in certain products.
Beyond the regulatory world, researchers are leading the way with a vision of what it means to address PFAS contamination at its source. Some companies are also voluntarily taking steps to help make that happen.
It’s realistically going to take several more decades, Peaslee said, before we can truly get a handle on PFAS. But that doesn’t mean that efforts to stop further contamination by getting it out of existing manufacturing practices and products will be fruitless.” …