By: Nicholas Hill
Summary. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are industrial chemicals used in many products from non-stick cookware to electronics and medical equipment. While they are very important to human industries and livelihoods, they have very damaging and dangerous environmental side-effects. PFAS are deemed "forever chemicals" because they are difficult to breakdown and get rid of in nature. Having something stay around for ever is not always an issue, but studies conducted by scientists and health workers in recent years have found that some types of the PFAS chemicals are harmful to humans and animals. PFAS have damaging after effects towards living creatures including birth defects and cancer growths caused by exposure. In the US alone there have been many documented cases of PFAS chemicals found inside humans. How do these dangerous industrial chemicals make their way into humans and animals? One of the most common ways that PFAS chemicals can harm humans is through drinking water, specifically bottled water. Many plastics use PFAS or similar chemicals like PET (polyethylene terephthalate). When exposed to heat, these chemicals can breakdown and enter the water they were packaged in. But this is not the only way these chemicals can enter our drinking water. In fact PFAS chemicals may have already been in the water before it was packaged. Chemicals dumped by businesses or the plastics that have been stored in landfills can sweep into our water sources where it is difficult to detect. The chemicals are difficult to remove directly as well because one of the most effective ways to separate the harmful chemicals from water is through reverse osmosis, a long and sometimes costly process. In recent years as scientist and governments have learned of the dangers of PFAS, there has been widespread legislation to regulate the amount of chemicals in water and food sources as well as regulate the types and amount of chemicals industries can use in the first place.
Why we should care? For many people around the world clean drinking water is hard to come by. Bottled water is easy to transport around and convenient for many. Adding chemicals to worry about is not good.
This article is particularly interesting because it is about Michigan where we live. It is also very shocking to discover that there has been very little concern for the testing of PFAS chemicals particularly in bottled water but also in our very own Great Lakes. It is also very unsettling that the chemicals are found in many different brands of water and not just one brand. This is evidence that there are many trace sources of PFAS from many different water sources. It also shows that many corporations do not care to test the safety quality of the water they sell. Hopefully the evidence found by scientists will push government to make legislation to test water especially bottled water for people to consume.
Science in Action. Dr. Carl Ng is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburg Swanson School of Engineering.
Dr. Ng works in chemistry, biology, and engineering departments to develop models for environmental conservation. She has worked to study the harmful effects of PFAS on living organisms as well as developed models to track the PFAS chemicals in the global food economy. She has also worked on ways to treat humans that have been exposed to PFAS from developing harmful side effects as well as attack the at their source in the form of "green" environmentally friendly solutions. Other than PFAS, she has worked on projects to help find ways to clean up sources of water pollution and to improve water quality.