PFAS: are you at risk?

PFAS: are you at risk?

August 15, 2023

Due to their persistence and the potential health hazards they cause, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are becoming an increasing problem in our environment. Numerous everyday items include these synthetic compounds, which are renowned for their resistance to water and oil.

What are, “forever chemicals”

Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been utilised extensively in several industrial and consumer items. These molecules cannot degrade in the environment due to the strong carbon-fluorine bonds that give them their distinctive properties. They stay around for a long period as a result, which contributes to their extensive prevalence in air, water, and soil. For this reason, they are often referred to as "forever chemicals".

The origins of PFAS compounds

The development and production of PFAS compounds can be traced back to the 1940s when their unique properties were discovered. PFAS were first used in the production of home goods including non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and fire-fighting foams. Due to their excellent resistance to heat, oil, and water, their use has gradually spread to a variety of sectors, including aerospace, electronics, and automotive.

The industrial uses of PFAS chemicals have a significant impact on their history. With the discovery of the first PFAS molecule, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and the subsequent fabrication of other variations, the chemical industry has played a significant role in the development and dissemination of PFAS. These chemicals have been utilised for decades, despite the current rise in awareness of its potential hazards.

Contamination goes global

PFAS contamination has turned into a significant problem due to the fact that these chemicals are found in soil, water, and air sources all over the world. As a result of their persistent presence in the environment, PFAS have accumulated in many ecosystems and have resulted in significant contamination. Pollution comes from several sources, including the discharge of industrial waste, unregulated landfills, and the use of firefighting foams at airports and military bases.

Due to their water solubility, PFAS compounds may easily disperse and contaminate both surface and subterranean water sources. Communities all throughout the world are thus at risk of having PFAS contaminate their drinking water.

PFAS can also accumulate in soil, particularly in areas where PFAS-containing waste has been deposited or where firefighting foams have been used.

Map of PFAS contamination in Ireland

French newspaper Le Monde has published an interactive map of PFAS contamination in Europe that “shows PFAS production facilities, some sites where PFAS are used, as well as sites where contamination has been detected and those that are likely to be contaminated.”

You can check the full article and see the contamination map on the Le Monde website.

Potential health risk linked to PFAS exposure

Concerns about the PFAS exposure-related possible health effects have grown over time. According to studies, PFAS may build up in the human body and last for a very long time, which could have a negative impact on health. Knowing the hazards of PFAS exposure is crucial to protect the public's health because they are present in a variety of items.

The effects of PFAS on human health have been the subject of several studies, and the findings point to a number of negative outcomes. These possible health dangers include cancer, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive issues and liver and kidney damage.

The scientific community is still learning about the health effects of exposure to forever chemicals.

Understanding the various pathways of exposure to PFAS

There are several ways that people might come in contact with PFAS chemicals. Ingesting PFAS-contaminated food and water is the most typical way to be exposed. As previously indicated, drinking water contamination is a serious issue, especially in communities close to industrial facilities, military installations, and other places where PFAS chemicals are common.

Aside from ingesting them, PFAS can also be inhaled when they are dispersed into the air, either by industrial emissions or via the use of specific consumer items. Additionally, PFAS can enter the body through the skin when it comes in contact with PFAS-containing dust or goods like garments coated with PFAS-based waterproofing chemicals.

Why blood testing is important

Given the possible health hazards of PFAS exposure, blood testing for PFAS levels has become more necessary. Blood testing can offer information about a person's exposure to PFAS chemicals and aid in the identification of potential health problems. With advancements in testing methodologies, a simple blood test may now precisely quantify PFAS levels and lead additional mitigation activities.

Blood tests provide an accurate and dependable evaluation of PFAS levels in the body. Laboratories can identify and quantify the levels of various PFAS chemicals in blood samples. This information allows healthcare practitioners to measure an individual's degree of exposure and better comprehend the potential health consequences.

Mitigating PFAS exposure

PFAS exposure must be minimised and prevented in order to protect human health and prevent environmental pollution. Although it may be difficult to completely eradicate PFAS from the environment, people and communities may adopt ways to reduce exposure.

Utilising PFAS substitutes in consumer products; promoting regulation and ethical manufacturing practices; ensuring proper disposal of PFAS-containing waste; supporting research and innovation for safer substitutes; and advocating for stringent monitoring and enforcement of PFAS contamination remediation efforts are some examples of effective measures.

Individuals may help limit their personal exposure to PFAS while also assisting in creating a more sustainable and healthy future for communities by putting these recommendations into practice.

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