From non-stick frying pans to stain-resistant sofas, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. These “forever chemicals” have been used in a wide range of consumer and commercial products since the 1950s, thanks to their ability to repel water and oil, resist high temperatures, and act as surfactants. With around 15,000 different PFAS chemicals in existence, it’s no wonder that they have become so pervasive in our environment. Despite their usefulness, the fact that PFAS don’t readily break down means that they accumulate in our bodies and the environment for decades.

With sales of fluoropolymers – a subgroup of PFAS – exceeding 39,000 metric tonnes in Europe in 2020 alone, it is clear that these chemicals are continually entering the world at alarming rates. PFAS can be found everywhere, from rainwater and snow to soil and groundwater, making it nearly impossible to avoid exposure entirely. Unfortunately, PFAS exposure has built up in the food chain and in humans, leading to potential health risks.

While it may be challenging to completely eliminate exposure to PFAS, there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk. For example, avoiding products treated with non-essential PFAS and opting for PFAS-free alternatives can significantly decrease exposure. Products like carpets, sofas, and cars are common sources of PFAS exposure, so choosing PFAS-free options when possible is crucial. Additionally, avoiding takeaways and disposable packaging, using PFAS-free cookware, and opting for PFAS-free outdoor clothing and cosmetics can further minimize exposure.

Not only are PFAS harmful to human health, but they also have detrimental effects on the environment. These chemicals have been shown to interfere with the ocean’s carbon cycle, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to climate change. The presence of PFAS in oceans can have far-reaching consequences for marine life and the health of our planet. As such, it is imperative that PFAS be treated with caution and efforts be made to reduce their impact on the environment.

Despite some progress in banning certain PFAS chemicals and implementing limits on drinking water, more drastic action is needed to address the dangers of PFAS. Developing a better understanding of the safety of these chemicals before mass production is crucial. The ultimate goal should be to remove PFAS from the market altogether, although this will undoubtedly take time and concerted efforts from governments, industries, and individuals alike. By working together to address the risks associated with PFAS, we can protect both human health and the environment for future generations.

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