Industries such as food packaging are nervously trying to get rid of PSAS or “forever chemicals,” as the EPA takes its first step in regulating them.
April Reese writes in Waste Dive:
“PFAS—a group of thousands of synthetic chemicals once prized for their resistance to oil, grease, water and heat—have been used in hundreds of consumer products since the 1940s, including coated paper and packaging. Mounting evidence of serious health effects and rising public concern have triggered a wave of new restrictions and lawsuits aimed at halting their use.
“On March 14, the U.S. EPA proposed its first legally enforceable limits on six types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water sources, which could include waterways into which effluent from paper mills flows. The agency says this rule, which could be finalized by the end of the year, ‘will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.’ “
As one who followed the “chemical wars” in the 1970s and 1980s (over Alar, a potential carcinogen in apple juice, for example), I recommend caution. Chances are, if Joseph G. Allen in 2018 hadn’t dubbed them “forever chemicals” in a Washington Post article, we wouldn’t be so worried about them.
Are they dangerous? Perhaps. As the Waste Dive article above indicates, a number of studies have found that high levels correlate with an increased risk of medical issues such as high cholesterol and specific cancers. But most discussions of these studies don’t (perhaps the studies themselves do) tell us what the “high” levels are; and commentators recognize that the evidence against them is somewhat weak. To be seriously affected, one must usually be drinking heavily contaminated water. On the other hand, these chemicals do last a long time.
PFAS have been used since the 1940s in many fields of manufacturing. One of the most ubiquitous is the paper industry because fast-food packaging can use PFAS to keep grease from leaking through the package. But the chemicals can be found in carpet and clothing, too, where they are used to resist water and stains.
Websites such as WebMD caution against them, but without more knowledge, it’s hard to get too excited. As WebMD says: “[S]ome scientists are concerned that these chemicals could build to levels that could harm the environment—and your body. While there are studies that show evidence of this, we need more research to be sure of their effects on people.”