PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been called “forever chemicals” because they are virtually indestructible and remain in the environment (and in the human body) for long periods of time without breaking down.
PFAS have been linked to a variety of human health issues, including various types of cancer (including kidney, testicular, and prostate), cardiovascular disease, obesity, a heightened risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, an increased risk of preeclampsia in pregnant people, liver damage, and reduced immune system effectiveness, among other conditions.
These “forever chemicals,” of which there are thousands, can be found throughout the United States and all over the world.
Many people who are exposed to PFAS today are exposed through contaminated drinking water, including municipal water sources and private water wells.
People can also be exposed by eating food that was grown in contaminated soil near locations where PFAS are manufactured or used.
PFAS can even be consumed indirectly by eating fish caught in contaminated water or by eating animals that were fed crops from contaminated land prior to slaughter.
People who are pregnant can inadvertently pass PFAS to unborn babies in the womb or newborn babies through breastmilk.
Some of the major sources of contamination include landfills where products containing PFAS can be found, industrial sites where PFAS were either manufactured or used, wastewater treatment plants, fire training sites at airports and U.S. military bases, and fire response locations where firefighting foam was used, including areas affected by wildfires.
PFAS continue to be released into the environment by textile and leather factories, locations that manufacture industrial plastics, molds, resins, and surfactants, wire manufacturers, paper manufacturers, and companies that perform metal plating & etching, among others.
These manufacturers may release PFAS through various means, including air emission and waste/wastewater disposal.
Releasing PFAS into the environment can affect air quality, groundwater, soil, surface water, and runoff in the immediate area as well as surrounding areas.
PFAS are commonly found in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, certain paints, varnishes, and sealants, cosmetic products (including makeup and nail polish), personal care products like shampoo and lotions, oil and grease-resistant paper contained in pizza boxes and other fast-food packaging, stain-resistant fabric and carpets, and in firefighting gear.
Firefighting foam, which also contains PFAS, has been used to squelch a fire’s fuel source and prevent it from reacting with oxygen particles in the air.
Although it is highly effective at suppressing fires, firefighting foam has recently become a source of major controversy, as many firefighters have alleged that they developed cancer after regular exposure to the PFAS found in the foam.
Although more research is needed to understand precisely how different PFAS may contribute to cancer, peer-reviewed research has shown that significant exposure to PFAS has the potential to cause specific forms of cancer.
With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three. She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.
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