Why should we care about PFAS?

PFAS are a large group of man-made chemicals used since the 1950’s to make consumer products. With non-stick and both water and stain repellent properties, PFAS are used in an array of everyday products such as packaging, cookware, clothing, carpet as well as firefighting foam. Their presence can be challenging to completely avoid.

It’s an undisputed fact that PFAS has become ubiquitous within the environment. Its arrival typically goes unnoticed as it evades detection by sight, sound or scent.Elevated concentrations of PFAS are commonly detected in proximity to sewage treatment facilities, landfills, and sites where fire-fighting foams, like those used at defense bases and airports, have been deployed. PFAS also has an ability to spread rapidly once it enters the aquatic environment. 

Known colloquially as ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS compounds break down very slowly over time and are recognised as an ‘emerging contaminant’ under the Stockholm convention. Concerns relate to their characteristics of persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity and impacts on human health.

While the collective characteristics of PFAS are raising alarm bells, in some corners there’s a belief that the issue is too daunting and that the opportunity to effectively address it has already passed.

Others question the need for action, referencing early research which in some instances was unable to provide a direct causal link of harm to humans.

Science, however, has a way of getting to the heart of an issue, and there is now a substantive body of global research findings which clearly demonstrate that PFAS contaminants are harmful to our health.  And despite there being thousands of PFAS contaminants, which makes them harder to study, the research findings are compelling.

The USA EPA reports that current peer-reviewed scientific studies show exposure to certain levels of PFAS can lead to:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.

Other studies point to more specific adverse health outcomes including an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in women. A large-scale study on exposure to PFAS in humans showed consistent evidence of liver damage.

It’s not just humans at risk. In 2023, an analysis of more than 100 peer reviewed studies of PFAS contamination in animals found 330 animal species had been affected. Research shows that it has even leached into the arctic where it has been found in the bodies of polar bears.

While the scale of PFAS migration means that we can never capture every PFAS molecule, as an environmental engineering company we believe that effective removal of PFAS at known hot spots is a necessary first step in reducing the toxic load.

The case for remediation is strengthened when you consider that there are now a range of proven and effective PFAS remediation technologies available to the market, including EPOC Enviro’s SAFF technology.

We know that the best place to interrupt the PFAS migration cycle and optimise remediation results is at the landfill leachate stage, where waters are captive and the presence of PFAS is high. At this point, PFAS can be effectively removed, preventing it from being injected into sewerage treatment plants where it is either discharged into the wider aquatic environment, or converted into fertiliser.

The US EPA has proposed nine PFAS contaminants as hazardous for human health. Soon, this cohort is to be mandated into regulation, bringing welcome change for communities impacted by PFAS contamination. Consider the health movements employed around smoking, asbestos and engineered stone. We now understand how damaging these items are to human health, and PFAS is rapidly being seen in the same light. 

Any questions, please contact us at info@epocenviro.com

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