Read the full article by Annie Ropeik (The Maine Monitor)

“I’ve always thought of PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals,’ as a kind of climate change issue. To be sure, the widespread contamination of our environment and bodies with these persistent, toxic chemicals does not need a climate connection to be hugely important. But both fall under the same broad umbrella anyway: that of oil extraction, industrial chemistry and the capitalist economy.

In ‘Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,’ the Pulitzer Prize-winning book that shaped most of how I think about environmental health, journalist Dan Fagin describes how the modern chemical industry was born from the coal tar that proliferated in Europe and America during the Industrial Revolution — ‘arguably, the first large-scale industrial waste.’ The hydrocarbons that make up fossil fuels, Fagin says, ‘proved extremely useful to the new world of chemical fabrication for the same reason that hydrogen and carbon are vital to the chemistry of life.’ They created long, durable chains of atoms that allowed complex molecular life to blossom.

‘Now, upon the stable platform of the hydrocarbon polymers in coal tar, chemists began to build a galaxy of new materials that were stronger, more attractive, and cheaper than what nature provided,’ Fagin writes. ‘Dyes came first, soon followed by paints, solvents, aspirin, sweeteners, laxatives, detergents, inks, anesthetics, cosmetics, adhesives, photographic materials, roofing, resins, and the first primitive plastics—all synthetic and all derived from coal tar, the fountainhead of commercial chemistry.’

PFAS are synthetic, fluorinated hydrocarbons, where fluorine takes the place of most of the hydrogen, according to a recent article in Cosmos. Like most everything that’s now the product of organic chemistry, the creation of PFAS built upon those first substances derived from coal. They were created using those same kinds of chemical processes to offer properties that can seem supernatural — burnt eggs sliding off a Teflon pan, water beading on a Gore-Tex jacket, fire snuffed on a jet fuel-soaked runway.

Like most aspects of modern capitalism, the applications for PFAS are totally entangled with petrochemicals. Besides being the key ingredient in firefighting foam designed to target jet fuel; they’ve been used to coat, protect and strengthen all manner of oil-derived plastics. Data shows that demand for plastics could be what drives oil extraction in the coming decades.” …