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Perfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAs, are quickly becoming notorious for the danger they represent.
These man-made chemicals have been slipped into product after product from stain-guards to microwave popcorn bags… and according to an environmental specialist from 3M, who resigned from the company over their unethical use of the contaminants, they’re the most insidious pollutants since PCB.
That’s really saying something since PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1979 because they had contaminated our waterways and infiltrated the bloodstreams and tissues of people and animals from New York to the Arctic.
But unlike the now-banned PCBs, PFAs are currently lurking in your water with no end in sight. In fact, these forever chemicals may never really go away…
Why are PFAs so dangerous?
The reason PFAs present such a clear and present danger is the fact that unlike other chemicals, including PCBs, they don’t degrade.
Basically, they’re carbon atoms surrounded by fluorine atoms — one of the strongest bonds in nature. This makes them super slippery and both water and grease resistant. That’s why they were considered to be such an amazing find for companies across the world.
Unfortunately, this also means that once they’re in our environment, they find their way into plants, fish, animals, and of course, us — just another way in which they’re far worse than PCBs which end up in soil and sediment.
In fact, PFAs can now be seen in the bloodwork of a whopping 99 percent of Americans! And like those PCBs back in the 70s, they’ve even been discovered in the blood of polar bears in the Arctic Circle.
And, guess what…
Scientists are now warning that those PFAs that are swimming through your blood are linked to everything from thyroid and fertility problems, to liver disease, high cholesterol and cancer.
Lack of regulation
Sadly enough, the problem is only worsening since the U.S. government hasn’t even set enforcement standards on the amount of PFAs companies can use in their products, much less banned them like the much less dangerous PCBs.
And, companies are definitely taking advantage of this lack of regulation.
“I have worked within the system to learn more about this chemical and to make the company aware of the dangers associated with its continued use,” said Richard Purdy that 3M environmental specialist in his resignation letter. “But I have continually met roadblocks, delays and indecision. For weeks on end, I have received assurances that my samples would be analyzed soon — never to see results. There are always excuses and little is accomplished.”
The State of Michigan even sued 3M over PFA environmental contamination in 2010, winning an $850 million settlement just last year.
However, it could be too late considering that these “forever chemicals” never break down and an excess of 11,000 areas of the state have been identified where that toxicity could be an issue.
As you can imagine, Michigan is not alone in their battle against PFA contamination…
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has listed 610 sites across 43 states or U.S. territories with the exact same problem, areas whose water systems provide the drinking water for 19 million Americans. The group offers an interactive map so that you can see whether the contamination has spread to your area and whether the toxicity has spread to drinking water, military sites or other known sites.
You can also have your water tested to see if there are PFAs lurking in it, waiting to damage your health. If it does, be sure to invest in a quality filtration system to limit your exposure. For more tips on how to avoid PFAs and the dangers that come with them, check out “The dirty little secret hiding in your dental floss”, by my colleague Jenny Smiechowski.
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- Internal documents show 3M hid PFAS dangers for decades — Detroit Free Press
- What are PCBs? — National Ocean Service