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#Explained: What are Forever Chemicals?

Forever Chemicals

Recently scientists have found a low-cost method to destroy forever chemicals. New research, from scientists at Northwestern University, US claims to have done the “seemingly impossible” and destroyed PFAs (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) using low temperature and cheap products.

They identified a new mechanism to break down the PFAs by using a common chemical called sodium hydroxide – which is used to make household products like soap or painkillers.

According to latest reports, forever chemicals are found in school uniforms.

But, what are forever chemicals or PFAs?

Forever chemicals are the man made chemicals used to make non-stick pans, water resistant clothes, cosmetics and many other things that resist oil, water and grease. You might be using products that have PFAs and you won’t even know it.

These chemicals are usually called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs). During their production and use, the chemicals can migrate through air, water and soil. If people and animals are exposed to these PFAs on a regular basis, they may develop an accumulation of the chemicals.

According to a latest study at University of Stockholm, even rainwater isn’t safe. The study said, the rainwater contains ‘forever chemicals’ which are linked to cancer, fertility issues, and child’s development. Although, some scientists are still to accept these disease linked claimed.

Read more: Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’

They are called forever chemicals because of their tendency to stick around the atmosphere, rainwater and soil for a very long time. New research suggests that rainwater around the world is contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) much higher than safe levels, leaving it unfit for human consumption.

Harmful effects due to PFAs

Health

Hypercholesterolemia: Animal studies in the 1990s and early 2000s primarily aimed to investigate the effect of two widely used long-chain PFASs. These studies determined that PFAs increase lipid metabolism in the human body. A paradoxical response is observed in humans where elevated PFAs levels were significantly associated with elevated total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Thyroid disease: Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid abnormality associated with PFAs exposure. PFAs have been shown to decrease thyroid peroxidase, resulting in decreased production and activation of thyroid hormones in vivo.

Cancer: Rat studies investigating the carcinogenicity of PFAs reported significant correlation with liver adenomas, Leydig cell tumours of the testis and pancreatic acinar cell tumours and dietary PFA consumption. The C8 Science Panel investigated the potential relationship between PFAs exposure and these three cancer types as well as 18 other cancer types in their epidemiological studies. 

Ulcerative colitis: PFAs have been shown to significantly alter immune and inflammatory responses in human and animal species. These cytokine variations allude to immune response aberrations resulting in autoimmunity. 

Pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia: Pregnancy-induced hypertension is diagnosed when maternal systolic blood pressure exceeds 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure exceeds 90mmHg after 20 weeks gestation. Mechanisms by which pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia could be caused by PFAs exposure have remained elusive and are largely speculative to date. 

Environmental

Bioaccumulation is the process by which PFAs are transferred into the tissue of any exposed organisms where PFAs accumulate over time since organisms lack natural excretion mechanisms. They can be absorbed from the environment, such as contaminated sediments or PFAs dissolved in water. PFAs can accumulate in marine species by a variety of pathways. 

Biomagnification is the process by which the amount of PFAS contamination increases with increasing trophic level, due to predation by the species at the higher trophic level. Seabirds that feed on fish have among the highest levels of PFAs contamination. Top predators have higher levels of PFAs than species lower down the food chain.

Read more here: #Explained: What is bio-magnification?

What can be done to remove these chemicals?

  1. Use non-stick coated cookware according to manufacturer guidelines (not all nonstick coatings contain PFAs). 
  2. Use stainless steel or cast-iron cookware in place of nonstick coated items.
  3. Avoid oil- and water-resistant food packaging.
  4. Avoid stain-resistant coatings on carpet, furniture and clothing.
  5. Avoid water repellents on clothing.
  6. Use personal care products without “PTFE” or “Fluoro” ingredients.
  7. Use water filters designed to remove PFAs.
  8. Dust household surfaces with a damp cloth regularly.

Conclusion

Variety of health risks including decreased fertility, developmental effects in children, interference with body hormones, increased cholesterol levels and increased risk of some cancers are attributed to PFA exposure.

Over 350,000 residents in Veneto, Italy are estimated to have been exposed to contamination through tap water. Several PFAs have been detected in drinking water, municipal wastewater and landfill leachates, worldwide. Shorter fluorosurfactants may be less prone to accumulating in mammals; there is still concern that they may be harmful to both humans, and the environment.

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