By: Julia Zhu
Over the years, many water sources have been polluted with forever chemicals, but not to such a severe degree as today. It was reported recently that rainwater has now become so polluted with forever chemicals that it is no longer safe to drink. These “forever chemicals” (a term used for PFAS), are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. The name forever chemicals comes from the fact that these chemicals do not break down in the environment or do so extremely slowly over the course of a thousand years. This is extremely worrisome because these chemicals are linked to at least three different types of cancer, reproductive problems, and weaken childhood immunity.
Many Americans are familiar with Teflon, a PFA responsible for making non-stick pans, which was developed in 1946 by DuPont. Since, Teflon has been phased out of use due to regulations set in place, but the chemicals used to replace Teflon are just as unsafe. PFAS used previously consisted of an eight carbon structure, but now are replaced by PFAS with six carbon structures. Companies claim that this shorter carbon structure is safer. However, DuPont has admitted that GenX, a six carbon structure used in food packaging, has caused tumors in lab animals. In 2019, Auburn University found that these six carbon PFAS may cause even more health risks than the eight chain carbon chemicals. This supports many scientists’ belief that the entire class of PFAS are hazardous. GenX and other PFAS have been released into rivers by companies in the past, but regulation is slow to implement and regulate these chemicals.
The reason that these chemicals are so hard to regulate is because the law does not require these companies to prove that the chemicals they use are safe, so a citizen must bring this issue to court to get that particular chemical to be regulated. This leads to a game of whack-a-mole where one dangerous chemical is replaced with another. There are thousands of PFAS and only being able to ban certain chemicals when citizens bring the issue to court is not a burden the consumers should bear. The drug industry cannot claim that their product is safe and be directly sold to customers. They have to go through an intense phase of clinical trials to ensure that the drug is safe. So why is it so different for other products? There should be a base level of safety to ensure that the chemicals are safe for consumers, not even considering the contamination and damage it does to the environment. Consumers should be a priority for the company as they are the ones buying the products. People are becoming more aware and educated on these issues, so it would be wise for companies such as DuPont to make changes.
To help regulate PFAS, you can call your district representative or senator. Raising and making your voice heard is a key part of getting change to happen.