The Invention That’s Punishing Humanity: Forever Chemicals and the Problems They Pose

The Invention That’s Punishing Humanity: Forever Chemicals and the Problems They Pose

March 31, 2023

Forever is fascinating unless you’re talking about toxic chemicals. Yes, almost indestructible, health hazard-causing chemicals are real and making headlines too.

Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, refer to a family of man-made chemicals, first invented in the 1930s. These durable, heat-resistant chemicals also show oil and water-repellant properties, and since the 1950s, they have been used in many consumer products.

PFAS were once considered harmless, but recent developments prove otherwise.

Why Are PFAS A Threat?

PFAS have been around for a long time, and obviously, that has a substantial impact. Even today, various industries, such as aerospace, construction, makeup, food packaging, firefighting, and others, use PFAS. But here’s the climax.

Besides the environment, PFAS can also remain in the human body and in animals. Certain PFAS identify as environmental pollutants, and studies prove they can cause a variety of health concerns. Examples are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFS).

From direct exposure in workplaces that manufacture or use PFAS to consuming contaminated water/food, there are many ways one can be exposed to these chemicals. Though it takes considerable time (years, to be more accurate), the human body can get rid of these by urination, breastfeeding, and menstruation.

Problem 1: Health Hazards of PFAS

The effect of forever chemicals on health has been observed as far back as the 1950s, and as time went by, data pointed to more serious implications. In the DuPont scandal, a report by the C8 panel linked exposure of C8 or PFOA to thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, kidney and testicular cancers, and hypertension in pregnant women.

A report by the CDC supports the connection between forever chemicals and some of the diseases mentioned in the above study. Furthermore, it mentions PFAS chemicals can also induce changes in liver enzymes, reduce vaccine response in children, and affect infant birth weight.

Another report by the EPA adds prostate cancer, other reproductive effects in women, and developmental effects in children to the list.

PFAS have clearly affected countless people, and naturally have a long history of lawsuits initiated by aggrieved plaintiffs. In the recent Firefighter Foam Cancer Lawsuit, those exposed to AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) and subsequently diagnosed with cancer are suing the manufacturers.

Gathering and preserving evidence is a vital component in an AFFF lawsuit. Moreover, to gain an upper hand in the fight and better negotiate financial compensation, many are opting for a professional law firm. Ideally, those with experience in handling personal injury lawsuits have the highest success rates.

TorHoerman Law, LLC is representing many such victims, as well as the bereaved of such persons. They offer a free consultation to help plaintiffs assess their chances of winning the cases and understand other aspects of the firefighting foam lawsuit.

Problem 2: Destroying PFAS

Strict regulations have been placed on the use of PFAS chemicals, and alternatives to PFOA and PFAS have been launched. But destroying the chemicals already present in the environment is another issue in itself.

The carbon-fluorine bonds in the PFAS are the strongest in organic chemistry, so some of these last in the environment indefinitely. Hence the name “forever chemicals”, and thus the problem.

The chemical nature of forever chemicals makes destroying them a massive challenge. Incinerating them releases dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, and there’s a high energy requirement. But breakthroughs have been achieved.

Supercritical water oxidation, a method commonly used in destroying harmful chemicals, shows high efficacy in reducing the concentration of PFAS in dilute AFFF. This is a viable method compared to incineration or landfilling.

More recently, the treatment of forever chemicals with a solution of sodium hydroxide and dimethyl sulfoxide has also proven to be efficient. Heating the chemicals after the treatment up to 248 degrees Fahrenheit degrades them into harmless byproducts and fluoride ions.

There are others like activated carbon treatment, ion exchange treatment, and the use of high-pressure membranes that can remove PFAS from drinking water. These are practical methods, although the use cases are limited.

Almost all possible ways of destroying PFAS have some limitations that are yet to be overcome. Large-scale application is a concern today, and the race is on to figure out a more universal solution.

PFAS Are Threatening, But They Won’t End Us

While PFAS are dangerous and cause some serious health concerns, they are not the first. But the EU, EPA, and other international organizations have to play a crucial role in curbing the use of PFAS chemicals.

Researchers and scientists are working on ways to destroy or at least manage the amount of PFAS in the environment. It is only a matter of time before a sustainable, scalable solution for forever chemicals comes along.