Here’s how “Forever Chemicals” — manufactured chemicals that can easily contaminate water — can affect your health, including cancer and a weakened immune system, and why the EPA is working to limit them.
“Forever Chemicals” is the slang term for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals that have been used in everyday products since the 1940’s.
They are known as “forever” chemicals because they do not degrade thanks to strong carbon-fluorine bonds, making it easy for these chemicals to linger in the environment and contaminate drinking water.
These chemicals are used in products for their waterproof and nonstick properties: you can find them in nonstick pans, waterproof clothing, food packaging like pizza boxes, medical devices like face masks, and cosmetic products.
Research has linked exposure to never-ending chemicals to kidney and testicular cancer and a weakened immune system, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says scientists are still learning about health effects.
Chemicals have also historically been associated with reduced fertility, high blood pressure in pregnant women, developmental disorders in children, imbalances in natural hormones and elevated cholesterol levels.
Exposure to chemicals at very low levels, even lower than can be reliably detected, can still be dangerous and endanger people.
Forever chemical contamination is widespread: PFAS chemicals were detected in 98% of blood samples drawn in 1999 and 2000, according to the CDC, although levels of some of these chemicals have decreased since they were phased out since the 2000s .
3M, a manufacturing giant that makes PFAS, said it will phase out chemicals forever by the end of 2025.
Forever chemicals have been identified in more than 330 species of animals worldwide, and research suggests that animals experience similar health effects as humans from exposure.
The EPA on Tuesday proposed limits on the amount of chemicals that can be present in drinking water. The limit would be set at 4 parts per trillion for PFAS chemicals, the lowest level that can be reliably measured. The agency is expected to make a final ruling by the end of the year. Radhika Fox, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, called the proposal a “transformative change” and said it could reduce exposure to chemicals forever for up to 100 million Americans.
The Biden administration has previously expressed support for permanently limiting chemicals in drinking water and in October 2021 unveiled a plan for federal agencies, including the EPA, the Department of Defense and the Food and Drug Administration, to tackle PFAS pollution. In June, the Biden administration announced that the EPA would issue health advisories for certain PFAS and distribute $1 billion in grants through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act “to help communities on the front lines of PFAS contamination,” in Drinking water. Some states have already passed legislation targeting forever chemicals: In July 2021, Maine passed legislation that would ban the use of forever chemicals in all products by 2030, except when deemed “currently unavoidable.” Wisconsin also introduced limits for PFAS levels in drinking water in February 2022.
Some studies have suggested a link between PFAS exposure and the likelihood and severity of Covid-19 infection, although scientists say more research is needed. Forever chemicals have also been detected in face masks.
“People on the front lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Therefore, as part of a whole-of-government approach, the EPA is taking aggressive action to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to protect affected families from this ever-present challenge.”
Toxic Chemicals Forever Close To Reaching Their First US Exposure Limits (AP)
You probably have “forever chemicals” in your body. Here’s what that means. (Voice)