A class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) remains present in the water cycle over long periods of time. These chemicals can then migrate from water to the air, according to new research from Stockholm University. PFAS are regularly released through industrial processes into the air, water, and soil around the world, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports.
With the advent of PFAS remediation efforts, populations are incrementally exposed to these dangerous toxins over time in residential settings. Some victims of this exposure claim that they developed cancer and other health conditions as a result.
Why Are PFAS Dangerous?
Also referred to as forever chemicals, PFAS have many uses and are a byproduct of a wide range of industrial processes. These chemicals have been detected in: consumer goods, in which PFAS acts as a fire and water repellant for products; oil processing; manufacturing; and other industrial uses where PFAS manifests as a waste product.
PFAS is an umbrella term referring to thousands of chemicals that have been linked to harmful health effects, such as cancer. Given their now widespread occurrence in environments around the world and in the United States, a growing number of people claim that PFAS caused them to suffer serious health problems.
Findings of a Recent Study Show That Water Does Not Help Break Down PFAS
Stockholm University conducted a study and found that PFAS can travel great distances through the oceans, showing up on shorelines within sea spray. As waves break onshore, the chemicals are released into the air, posing risks for shoreline residents and others on land.
In other words, these dangerous chemicals can move through all stages of the water cycle—then get released back into the atmosphere. As a result, victims face toxic exposure to PFAS in the air long after the chemicals were disposed into bodies of water.
This discovery challenges previous assumptions that PFAS gradually degrade after being released into oceans and other bodies of water. Additionally, this finding raises new concerns about how PFAS are disposed of in industrial and other processes.
What Types of Health Conditions Can PFAS Exposure Cause?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research indicates that exposure to high levels of PFAS may lead to several health conditions, including:
- Heightened risk of kidney or liver cancer
- Some decreases in birth weights of newborns
- Risk of high blood pressure
- Risk of pre-eclampsia among pregnant women
- Reduced antibodies from vaccines in children
- Changes in enzymes in the liver
Researchers continue to explore the carcinogenic and other negative health effects of PFAS.
Where is PFAS contamination found?
PFAS contamination can be found across thousands of sites in the United States, according to The Guardian. These sites include locations where PFAS is currently handled or has been handled in the past. People who live near these sites are likely to suffer significant toxic exposure.
States with the highest concentration of PFAS-handling sites include Colorado, Oklahoma, and California. However, residents and workers can endure exposure in locations throughout almost all fifty states.
Companies May Be Responsible for PFAS Contamination
People who were exposed to PFAS contamination are now moving to take legal action. These victims allege that companies who handled PFAS are liable for their health conditions and other damages.
Some of these victims include:
- Plaintiffs in a Michigan lawsuit against DuPont and 17 other companies that are alleged to have concealed the dangers of PFAS chemicals and sold or distributed them in the state (per information from the State of Michigan)
- Fred Stone, a dairy farmer in Maine, who claims that PFAS sludge contaminated his animals’ fields, causing him to lose his business (per Bloomberg Law)
Federal and state-level legislation promoting medical monitoring of victims exposed to PFAS could be paving the way for additional opportunities to hold companies accountable (see the press release from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand).