This commentary was written by Marguerite Adelman of Winooski, coordinator of the Vermont PFAS/Military Poisons Coalition.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been in the news lately, despite the fact that we have known about the dangers of these man-made toxins for over 50 years. Recent scientific studies demonstrate that we may have exceeded the limits to stop the widespread contamination of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on our planet. PFAS is now found in rainwater around the world, water that is used by many people without access to public drinking water systems. Even our public water systems are unable to detect PFAS at levels below 2 parts per trillion, but above 0 ppt: levels that are now considered hazardous to human health by the Environmental Protection Agency. .
Damage to human health from exposure to PFAS takes time, sometimes many years. When it takes this long to see the negative health effects, people become apathetic. You can also read about the many new methods being discovered to address PFAS in our environment. Don’t be fooled by these self-promoting press releases from companies and research labs looking to make a name for themselves and make money. We cannot become complacent looking for a quick fix to the PFAS problem.
Sometimes the remedy turned out to be worse than the original problem. GenX, for example, was supposed to be a safer form of PFAS, only to turn out to be more dangerous. Also, incineration as a disposal method has been shown to release new forms of PFAS into the air. There are over 9,000 forms of PFAS. It is doubtful that any one type of PFAS is safer than any other form, but the current ban on each is based on testing whether they are harmful to living creatures. Such tests, at public expense, are simply ridiculous; we should rely on the “precautionary principle”, obliging manufacturers to prove that their product is safe before it is put on the market.
Why are these proposed remediation methods not a solution to the PFAS problem? As Terry Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote: “The environment is already totally unacceptably contaminated with PFAS and will remain so for decades even if no other molecules of PFAS are never resold. You should be able to apply this new process to oceans, lakes, and rivers just to start having a “powerful solution”, and that’s a ridiculous thought. Add air and soil to this list, as they would also need to be ‘cleaned up’.
With over 9,000 types of PFAS in our environment, the only viable solution is to stop producing all forms of this man-made chemical forever. And the only way to stop the production of PFAS is for a massive uprising of people to demonstrate against and advocate for comprehensive national legislation to limit this planetary poisoning.
To do that, we have to be willing to accept that we can’t have products that are always stain-resistant, water-resistant, cling-resistant, and durable. Our need for convenience is killing us. Like me, many of the defenders I work with are older. PFAS probably won’t affect us as deeply as our grandchildren and future generations. We must act now to permanently ban PFAS. We must take our role of protecting future generations and our planet seriously.