What Are 'Forever Chemicals', Those Substances that Remain in Environment for Hundreds of Years?
Last Updated: March 07, 2023, 08:49 IST
Ubiquitous in our everyday products and with a very robust composition, forever chemicals take hundreds of years to degrade. (Credits: AFP)
Commonly referred to as ‘forever chemicals,’ PFAS are toxic to the planet, animal species and human health. They are ubiquitous in everyday products and have a very robust chemical composition, taking hundreds of years to degrade.
Commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are toxic to the planet, animal species and human health. They are ubiquitous in everyday products and have a very robust chemical composition, taking hundreds of years to degrade. They are everywhere… or just about everywhere. Since the start of the year, we have been hearing a lot about “forever chemicals.” At the end of February, eighteen European media outlets, including the UK-based Guardian, joined forces to publish the “The Forever Pollution Project” investigation. Based on data and the expertise of scientists and inspired by PFAS Project Lab and the PFAS Sites and Community Resources Map in the US, the journalists have put together a large map showing the extent of contamination by forever chemicals across the continent. But what exactly are we talking about?
Going by the name PFAS, forever chemicals refer to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals from industrial production. These perfluorinated compounds exist by the thousands and are called “forever” because of the very long time they take to degrade (hundreds, or even thousands of years). PFAS are composed of powerful bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms which makes them very resistant. According to the European media investigation, 21,000 sites across Europe are contaminated with PFAS, with levels considered hazardous to the health of those exposed. “The contamination revealed by this project spreads all over Europe,” the report states.
Consequences for the health of humans and animals
Mostly produced in factories, perfluorinated compounds are present in many aspects of our daily lives: paints, varnishes, pesticides, textiles, food packaging, waterproofing agents, Teflon coatings on cookware… And according to a study published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, they are also present in toilet paper!
Considered endocrine disruptors, PFAS are increasingly being targeted by scientific publications as risk factors for human health. In particular, they are thought to contribute to the development of certain cancers (testicular, breast, kidney). Significant and prolonged exposure to PFASs can also promote obesity, increase cholesterol levels and cause complications during pregnancy, in particular an increased risk of miscarriage or high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia).
And it is not only humans who are at risk: another survey by the American NGO Environmental Working Group has published an interactive map, revealing that more than 330 animal species worldwide are contaminated by PFAS. This concerns domesticated, wild, marine and terrestrial species.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)