As industry phases out certain toxic PFAS chemicals, the compounds are decreasing in and around the Great Lakes, but replacement chemicals—which some argue also pose serious health concerns—are increasing, according to new research from Canada.
This study, which contains the longest, consistent record of PFAS in Great Lakes precipitation, confirms that environmental practices and regulation can reduce these toxic “forever chemicals” in the environment, but raises questions about whether or not the same will hold true for their replacements.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large class of chemicals used in firefighting foam, flame retardants and non-stick and waterproof materials that have recently come under scrutiny for building up to toxic levels in humans and their lack of regulation. They are linked to multiple health problems including cholesterol, fertility and thyroid problems and kidney and testicular cancers.
At the same time, PFAS are showing up in drinking water supplies across the country, especially near old industrial sites, where they were used in manufacturing textiles, paper products, plastics and metals. Michigan, which is bordered by four Great Lakes, is one of the most PFAS contaminated states: 62 sites have confirmed PFAS pollution and state officials have created a PFAS response team and are ramping up monitoring at municipal water systems and schools.
Starting in the early 2000s, concern over several long-chain PFAS pushed industry to phase out those chemicals for short-chain alternatives that function similarly. Touted as safer alternatives, these short-chain replacements have one distinct benefit: they don’t build up in bloodstreams in the same way their longer counterparts do. Because of this difference, some argue that short-chain PFAS wouldn’t harm humans.
That theory is starting to show some holes, Tom Bruton, senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, told EHN…
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