A small fraction of the most compelling evidence pointing to the harms posed by chemicals forever, including birth defects and elevated cancer risk, receive the public attention it deserves.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, have lurked in our drinking water and the air we breathe for decades. A product of industry and large-scale manufacturing, the substances will persist for at least that long due to the glacial rate at which they break down in the environment.
So-called ‘forever chemicals’ remain in the bloodstream and organs for years before being eliminated from the body through urination, and because chemicals are ever-present in everyday life, from the coating on nonstick cookware to the escape of pesticides. in the water supply, the body is continually bombarded with them.
An investigation by DailyMail.com earlier this month revealed much higher than average rates of cancer cases and deaths, as well as pregnancy complications in most counties whose drinking water contains high levels of PFAS chemicals.
But researchers at the Green Science Policy Institute found that of the most substantive scientific explorations of the health outcomes of people who inhale or drink constant concentrations of PFAS chemicals, only eight percent come with a press alert to attract attention. of the much-needed means.
Tap water contaminated with forever chemicals is a widespread problem, with about 45 percent of American drinking water sources testing positive for at least one. Elevated rates of PFAS have been linked to higher rates of cancer and other health problems
The cities represented on the map are just a few of the many that have been identified with higher concentrations of PFAS in public water supplies and private wells.
The institute’s findings come just over a month after it was revealed that executives at DuPont and 3M, two of the largest manufacturers of PFAS in the US, were first alerted to the health risks in 1961. , but they did not raise the alarm until the 1990s.
Rebecca Fuoco, director of science communications at the Green Science Policy Institute, said: “New studies finding strong associations between forever chemicals and serious harms like preterm birth and cancer are largely overlooked.”
“Research hidden in scientific journals has limited reach and therefore limited impact.”
The authors of the statement posited that researchers may be wary of engaging in “non-scholarly communications,” such as exchanges with the media.
The authors also said that researchers may be hesitant to add to the growing body of evidence pointing to the many harms of PFAS exposure for fear that their research is “inaccurate or exaggerated,” although when that happens, it’s usually because the associated press release was misspelled or misinterpreted the results.
Evidence pointing to the myriad of hazards associated with long-term exposure to PFASs has been steadily increasing over the past decade.
When PFAS enter the body, they are deposited in the bloodstream, kidneys, and liver.
A 2007 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the total proportion of Americans with PFAS in their blood at a staggering 98 percent.
However, very few scientific studies detailing these hazards have received the media attention that the researchers say is needed to convince authorities and responsible parties, such as pesticide manufacturers, to address the problem.
Typically, when research bodies, such as large academic institutions, reach substantive scientific conclusions that will have widespread impact. public health implications, issue press releases to get media attention and spread the word.
And press alerts do the job for the most part: Studies that came with press releases received 20 times more attention than studies that didn’t, meaning a lot of useful public health information went unrecognized.
Dr. Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and co-author of the Green Policy Institute statement, said: “I urge scientists and their institutions to embrace media outreach as a critical part of the process research”.
‘As scientists, we hold the key to information that can inform better policy, medical practice, industry innovation and more. It is our responsibility to unlock that potential by sharing our research with a broad audience.”
In the absence of federal rules to forever restrict chemical levels in drinking water, nearly half of all drinking water sources in the US have been shown to contain at least one type of PFAS.
This is becoming increasingly apparent in places like Brunswick County, North Carolina, where tap water has some of the highest concentrations of PFAS in the entire country due in large part to contamination from a nearby chemical plant. from DuPont.
An investigation by DailyMail.com found that tap water in Brunswick County contains 155 times the amount of PFOA considered safe (1.09 parts per billion). The state average, for reference, is 0.945ppt.
Experts point the finger at a chemical plant in Fayetteville that they say has been dumping poisonous chemicals into the Cape Fear River watershed, which serves as the main drinking water supply for more than 1.5 million Carolinians. North, since the 1980s.
Cancer diagnoses in most cities designated by the Environmental Working Group as having high levels of PFAS in their water are above the national average rate of about 439 cases per 100,000 people.
PFAS are ubiquitous in modern life. Some of the estimated 12,000 PFAS chemicals are used to give nonstick cookware its trademark quality, repel water from raincoats, and form part of the fire-fighting foam used by firefighters.
Neighborhoods with the Highest Levels of PFAS in Drinking Water
Concentrations are measured in parts per trillion (PPT)
- Brunswick County, NC at 185.9ppt
- Quad Cities, Iowa at 109.8ppt
- Miami, Florida at 56.7ppt
- Bergen County, NJ at 51.4ppt
- Wilmington, North Carolina at 50.5ppt
- Philadelphia, Pa. at 46.3ppt
- Louisville, Ky. at 45.2ppt
- New Orleans, Louisiana at 41.8ppt
- Charleston, SC at 33.3ppt
- Decatur, Alabama at 24.1ppt
Information courtesy of a separate report from the Environmental Working Group
Chemicals also often coat the packaging of some foods which can then absorb some of the toxins.
Washing PFAS-coated dishes and coating crops with PFAS-laden pesticides create runoff that seeps into drinking water sources.
DuPont was at the center of a PFAS-related controversy last month when it agreed, along with two other chemical companies, to settle contamination claims for about $1.2 billion.
Although many manufacturers have phased out the use of certain PFASs, such as PFOA, the chemicals have extremely long half-lives, in some cases up to a decade.
The half-life of a substance is the time it takes for half of the initial amount of a chemical to break down or disappear.
For example, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), one of the most studied PFAS chemicals, is estimated to have a half-life ranging from several years to more than a decade in the environment before breaking down.
Earlier this month, researchers with the US Geological Survey, a federally administered investigation, tested water sources at more than 700 locations across the country for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
They found that 45 percent of drinking water sources contained at least one PFAS, with higher concentrations in the Great Plains, Great Lakes, East Coast, and central/southern California.
The team’s tests were limited to 32 types of PFAS out of the more than 12,000 that exist, meaning thousands of chemicals could have gone undetected. If that’s the case, it may indicate that the problem is even bigger than what the study conveys.