“Forever Chemicals” Are Everywhere – Here’s What You Need To Know About Them

“Forever Chemicals” Are Everywhere – Here’s What You Need To Know About Them By Joanne Roberts, Glasgow Caledonian University via Natural Blaze

Whether you’ve heard of them before or not, “forever chemicals” are all around us. Stain-resistant carpets, non-stick pans, mascara and even some food packaging all contain these chemicals. But while these products can be very useful to us, the chemicals they contain have a darker side. Research has shown that they’re linked to health problems, including cancer. And one recent study even suggested that in utero exposure to forever chemicals can affect a man’s sperm count and quality later in life.

Here’s what you should know about them.

What are forever chemicals?

Forever chemicals are a class of chemicals collectively known as per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which were first introduced in the 1940s.

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Their high thermal and chemical stability, coupled with their ability to repel grease and water, make these chemicals uniquely suited for a variety of engineering and commercial uses. As such, they can be found in many consumer products, such as makeup, fire extinguishers, fast food wrapping, textiles, stain repellents and electronics. The actual number of PFAS in circulation worldwide has yet to be defined – though according to some resources, this number is well over 4,700chemicals.

The reason PFAS are called forever chemicals is because they persist in the environment for decades. For example, it would take approximately 400 years to break down just 500 mg (roughly the equivalent of a paracetamol tablet) of a type of forever chemical called perfluorooctane sulphonic acid (PFOS). This chemical was once used as a spray-on stain repellent for textiles. The same amount of another forever chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) would take 800 years to break down. This chemical was used in the manufacture of non-stick pans.

Given that PFAS are used in so many everyday items, it also means they can find their way into the sewage system during washing, or into landfill after disposal – which may allow them to eventually end up in rivers. They’re also known to accumulate in plants and animals as they move through the food chain, so they may end up in the foods we eat including milk and eggs.

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