Forever Chemicals, Everywhere
By Robert Hunziker
Forever Chemicals are found everywhere from the depths of the Mariana Trench to the mountaintop of Mt. Everest. Following 80 years of manufacturing various PFAS chemicals, the world is swimming in chemical permanence. And yes, it is a toxic price society pays for modern-day conveniences — made easy!
But maybe it would be better if “products made easy by PFASs” were made the old-fashioned way, pre-1940 sans dangerous chemicals. After all, several civilizations of the world got along just fine over thousands of years without PFAS chemicals. For example, the BBC documentary: The Story of India by Michael Wood: Archeological discoveries have revealed advanced technological artifacts found at Rakhigarhi, an Indus Valley site 8,000-years-old. Indus cities had elaborate planning for drainage systems, housebuilding, and street construction with plentiful evidence of transcendent cultural affairs.
According to the United States EPA: “PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s because of their useful properties. There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others… PFAS can be present in our water, soil, air, and food as well as in materials found in our homes or workplaces.”
Yet, undeniably, PFASs have created a worldwide toxic stew that’s extremely messy and unquestionably deadly in some instances.
A new study by Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists uncovered very disturbing levels of PFASs in America’s freshwater fish found throughout the country from coast-to-coast with levels of chemicals “that may be harmful” according to EWG’s polite way of saying: “Stop and beware of what you put into your mouth.” (Source: The Environmental Working Group, Forever Chemicals in Every River in the US, DGR News Service, January 27, 2023)
What are the risks?
Like nuclear radiation isotopes, PFAS chemicals last forever and ever, and ever. Over time these human genome terrorists accumulate in human tissue, showing up years later potentially as testicular, kidney, or pancreatic cancer, weakened immune systems, decreased fertility, endocrine disruption, elevated cholesterol, increased risk of asthma, thyroid disease, and puzzling weight gain.
It’s claimed that PFAS chemicals have contaminated drinking water for nearly one-half of America’s population. Interestingly enough, American cases of chronic illnesses at nearly 50% of the general population seems to support that statement, more on this later.
The US EPA website lists the hazards of PFASs at risks of various levels based upon peer-reviewed scientific studies with a stated caveat, depending upon “exposure to certain levels of PFAS.” Certain levels are two catchwords that leave a person uncertain as to… what and how much is dangerous?
Meanwhile, chronic illness in the U.S., which is likely a result of excessive PFAS exposure, is rampant. According to The Commonwealth Fund (founded in 1918): U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes, d/d January 30th, 2020: “The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden… and an obesity rate that is two times higher than the OECD average.” But it spends more on health care than any other country. Ouch!
Thankfully and importantly, EWG offers a free Guide to “Avoiding PFAS Chemicals.”
The EWG study discovered alarming off-the-charts levels of PFAS chemicals throughout America: “EWG found that median amount of PFAS in freshwater fish were an astounding 280 times greater than forever chemicals detected in some commercially caught and sold fish,” Ibid.
According to David Andrews Ph.D. EWG senior scientist: “People who consume freshwater fish, especially those who catch and eat fish regularly, are at risk of alarming levels of PFAS in their bodies,” Ibid.
And according to Scott Faber, EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs: “These test results are breathtaking… Eating one bass is equivalent to drinking PFOS-tainted water for a month,” Ibid.
EWG discovered: “The extent of contaminated fish to be staggering.” Test results show PFAS contamination across the country from Oregon to Maine. EWG claims there may be more than forty thousand (40,000) industrial polluters of PFAS in the United States alone: “For decades, polluters have dumped as much PFAS as they wanted into our rivers, streams, lakes and bays with impunity We must turn off the tap of PFAS pollution from industrial discharges, which affect more and more Americans every day.” (EWG)
In contrast to a frustrating ongoing procrastination in America, Europeans are taking a much stronger stance on PFAS Chemicals. Forty-six (46) European civil society organizations have demanded an urgent banning by the EU of all PFAS consumer products by 2025 and “across all uses by 2030.” (Source: Civil Society Groups Urge the EU to Keep Their Promises to Ban ‘Forever Chemicals’ PFAS, Health and Environment Alliance aka: HEAL, October 2022)
A statement by the Health and Environment Alliance/Europe: “PFAS pollution is out of control and exposure to several forever chemicals have been linked to an array of adverse health impacts, from liver damage to reduced response to routine vaccination by children and certain cancers. PFASs have contaminated the entire planet and are found in the bodies of most people around the globe.”
“We’re talking about a group of entirely human-made chemicals that didn’t exist on the planet a century ago and have now contaminated every single corner. No one gave their consent to be exposed to these harmful chemicals, we haven’t had the choice to opt out and now we have to live with this toxic legacy for decades to come. The very least we can do is to stop adding to this toxic burden by banning PFAS use and production now,” Dr. Julie Schneider, PFAS campaigner at CHEM Trust. (HEAL)
So far efforts to diminish/control/ban PFASs in the United States have been haphazard and limited in scope. Manufacturing of PFAS has mostly moved offshore, so it now comes back in products from abroad. According to EWG: “There may be more than forty thousand (40,000) industrial polluters of PFAS in the United States.” (Source: The Environmental Working Group, Forever Chemicals in Every River in the US, DGR News Service, January 27, 2023)
Some states have legislated limited restrictions, e.g., PFASs were detected by the Department of Health in Honolulu’s drinking water in 2021. Posthaste, Hawaii House Bill 1644 (2022) was enacted to prohibit manufacture and sale of certain items that contain PFAS such as wraps, liners, plates, food boats, and pizza boxes. Additionally, the bill bans PFAS in products that already have established alternatives. A few other states are also limiting PFAS chemicals.
Patrick Byrne, an environmental pollution researcher at the U.K.’s Liverpool John Moores University (a public research university est. 1823), who was not involved in the EWG research: “PFAS are probably the greatest chemical threat the human race is facing in the 21st Century.” (Source: Eating One Fish from U.S. Lakes or Rivers Likened to Drinking Months’ Worth of Contaminated Water, CBS News, January 17, 2023)
Not surprisingly, in the face of an epidemic of PFAS chemicals soaked into the fabric of America, the country ranks high in the world for cases of chronic diseases, including, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, respiratory diseases, arthritis, obesity, and oral diseases. Forty-five percent (45%) of America’s population, or roughly 133 million Americans, have at least one chronic disease. (Source: National Center for Biotechnology – Information/National Library of Medicine)
Forty-five percent is a weighty number.
What can be done?
Is the EPA up to the task?
Answer: No, not even close.
The EPA is overwhelmed, understaffed, underfunded and outlawyered at every crossing. Despite 100+ pages of statutory text in the Toxic Substances Control Act, chemical manufacturers have no legal obligation to test or to assess the toxicity of manufactured chemicals. America’s main line of defense against toxic chemicals is an understaffed, horribly underfunded EPA. They must dig through tens of thousands of scientific data to determine what’s good and what’s bad. But without enough bodies on hand to keep turning the pages. Moreover, many chemical compositions are shielded behind “trade secrets.”
“The EPA has only banned a handful of chemicals in over 40 years.” (Source: Industrial Chemical Polluters are Almost Unregulated in the US, Massive Science, May 13, 2020).
According to the following article, Congressional Lack of Funding Continues to Jeopardize EPA Operations, EHS Administration, Wastewater, May 18, 2022: “The EPA has been substantially ‘hollowed out’ for inadequate resources that have long been dangerously declining to a point where EPA is spending, in real dollars, less than half what the agency spent in 1980.”
Therefore, in the face of tens of thousands of potentially toxic chemicals slushing about in rivers, lakes, marshes, farmland, city drainage systems, in fact throughout the country, the EPA’s wherewithal is embarrassingly scandalously weak and a sure signal of a failing society. According to sources, the recent appropriations bill rejected a piddly $10 million budget increase to address polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Evidently, Congress is not at all serious about one of the country’s most serious threats to citizens of every congressional district. They don’t care! Can’t even commit to a lousy $10M increase.
All of that on top of 4 years of Trump administration hatchet jobs on the EPA: “Trump’s environmental record is such a toxic disaster it should be declared a Superfund site.” (Source: Carol Browner, head of EPA during Clinton Administration). Trump’s fiscal 2021 prop0sed budget called for a 26% hit to EPA. This after a few years of a hatchet job on environmental departments of the federal government, chasing senior scientists out, many went to France where Macron greeted them with open arms. Just imagine Trump back in the White House! Whew!
Somewhat timidly, the EPA has been studying the PFAS issue and has taken some preventative measures, but sources wonder if it is even remotely close to adequate. With 40,000 industrial PFAS polluters in America, even though there’s no manufacturing of PFASs in the U.S. any longer, the question arises: Who’s watching the store? PFASs that are prohibited from manufacturing in America are okay elsewhere and end up in products exported to America which, via various manufacturing processes, end up in the environment.
What does it take?
Does it take a mean-spirited maddened consortium of angry pissed-off civic groups like the European HEAL campaign, which has demanded an urgent banning by the EU of all PFAS consumer products by 2025 and across all uses by 2030, in order to move the needle to control/ban/restrict PFAS chemicals?
Otherwise, putting it bluntly, we are blindly, indiscriminately poisoning ourselves.
Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.
This article was originally published on February 3, 2023 © Counterpunch
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected]