Why are they called ‘forever chemicals,’ and other things to know about PFAS

2022-07-07

Residents of rural Central Massachusetts were shocked to learn that a composting facility likely spread toxic ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS into their drinking water, according to state officials.

They’re not alone. The state has identified dangerous levels of the compounds in 84 community water systems across the Commonwealth.

The chemicals have been linked to a slew of health problems, even in tiny quantities.

Here’s what you need to know about PFAS.

What are PFAS?

The term PFAS refers to a class of manmade per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds that have been around since the 1940s. Since they resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water, manufacturers use them in everything from cosmetics and cookware to yoga pants and firefighting foam. They’re also found in construction materials and at airports and military installations.

“PFAS is virtually everywhere,” said Carol Gregory, senior vice president of communications and marketing at Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation.

PFAS earned the alarming nickname “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment. Due to their chemical makeup, they can stay intact for thousands of years.

“When it is dumped, it stays there,” said Kyla Bennett, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in New England.

That’s a huge problem for human health, because PFAS are highly toxic. Scientists have linked them to high cholesterol, hormone disruption, immune deficiency, and several cancers.

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Boston Globe, 7-07-22
; https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/07/07/science/why-are-they-called-forever-chemicals-other-things-know-about-pfas/