For decades, chemicals that make life easier — your eggs slide out of the frying pan, stains don’t stick to your sofa, rain bounces off your jackets and boots — have been touted as game changers for our busy modern lives. “Better things for better living … through chemistry,” was the optimistic slogan coined by DuPont, the company that invented the widely used chemical coating Teflon.
But this better living has come at a cost that is getting new attention. These chemicals — dubbed forever chemicals for their ability to last in the environment — are proving to have a lasting impact on human health. A growing body of research links the group of chemicals broadly known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, to conditions from unhealthy blood lipid levels to pregnancy complications to cancer.
Alarm about the health impacts of these chemicals has sparked a recent flurry of action from U.S. public health and regulatory officials. Warning that PFAS pose a greater health risk than previously thought, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June dramatically lowered its recommended safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water.
“The updated advisory levels are based on new science, including more than 400 recent studies which indicate that negative health effects may occur at extremely low levels, much lower than previously understood,” Radhika Fox, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, said in June at the Third National PFAS Conference, held in Wilmington, N.C.
Soon after, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released the first clinical guidelines quantifying blood concentration levels of PFAS that could put someone’s health at risk. The 300-page report urges clinicians to recommend regular blood tests for anyone exposed to high levels of the chemicals and to provide information on how to limit exposure, such as installing special filters known to reduce PFAS in drinking water. [Continue reading…]