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What are 'forever chemicals' and should we be concerned about them?

(NEXSTAR) – “Forever chemicals” can be found in everyday items, from non-stick cookware to waterproof mascara to tap water. But concern has grown in recent years over their prevalence in the environment, as well as their potential health effects.

These synthetic chemicals, also known as PFAS (or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been used to make consumer products since about the 1950s.

Companies like 3M, DuPont, Chemours and others manufactured PFAS because they were incredibly useful. They helped eggs slide across non-stick frying pans, ensured that firefighting foam suffocates flames and helped clothes withstand the rain and keep people dry.

They have since spread into the nation’s air, water and soil, the Associated Press reported.

While some of the most common types have been phased out of commercial production in the U.S., others remain. An estimated 15,000 PFAS exist today, according to a database maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. They resist breaking down in the environment and can build up in the body over time, hence their nickname “forever chemicals.”

“These things really don’t degrade easily, and they hang around,” Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, chief medical officer at Chicago’s Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, told Nexstar’s WGN Radio. “How many of them actually cause human health problems? We don’t know.”

“But we do know enough that certain PFAS have detrimental effects on human health,” he said.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “forever chemicals” have been linked to a higher risk of certain cancers (such as kidney and testicular), low-birthweight, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

The CDC noted on its website, however, that more research is needed to understand “the relationship between exposure to PFAS and human health effects.”

Dr. Kopin said companies like Quest Diagnostics offer tests that can detect the level of some PFAS in your blood, but not everyone needs to take one.

“So for example, let’s say somebody’s drinking water comes from groundwater, or a well, and the well water is tested and there’s a very high level of PFAS in it. Those are the kinds of people who certainly should get tested,” he said.

“Just because you have high cholesterol, which is such a common problem, that doesn’t mean that you need to get tested – only if there there’s concern for an exposure.”

Earlier this month, the EPA set new rules for toxic PFAS in drinking water, marking the first time the agency placed a nationwide limit on the long-lasting substances. Utility companies will now be tasked with reducing PFAS to the lowest level they can be reliably measured.

If you want to reduce your exposure to these chemicals, there are some steps you can take, according to the EPA:

  • Reach out to your water provider: Many water utility companies test for PFAS, and you can contact them for the results.
  • Use a water filter: Consider installing an in-home treatment that’s certified to lower levels of PFAS in your water.
  • Check your fish: Avoid eating contaminated fish from waterways impacted by PFAS. The EPA has a list of state, territory, and tribal fish advisory contacts that you can use to determine which waterways are of concern.
  • Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission: The agency can help answer questions about household products in your home. You can call (301) 504-8120, email, or visit the CSPC’s website.

The Associated Press’ Michael Phillis contributed to this story.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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