Perflouroalkyl and Polyflouroalky Substances
By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 14, 2019
Quite a mouthful, otherwise known as PFAS. Now the trick is to actually keep them out of our mouths.
PFAS, first developed in the 1940s, is not a single thing but a massive family of man-made chemicals — nearly 4,700 of them now, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The concoctions have been and still are widely used as soil and water repellents, in fire-fighting foam and non-stick cookware. In other words, the carpets we walk on, the furniture we sit on, some of the clothes we wear, and the pans from which we eat.
It turns out they’re probably not so good for us. And they stay around for a long time.
PFAS are sometimes called the “forever chemical” because of their remarkable staying power. They don’t degrade in water or due to heat. Once they get into the environment — they’ve been found in water, soil, dust, and air — they will stay there. Researchers have not yet been able to even determine a half-life for the stuff.
In fact, they last so long that the two versions most often discovered and researched — perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perflourooctane sulfonate (PFOS) — haven't been manufactured in or imported into this country since 2000. Yet, they’re still showing up in new places.
Because PFAS don’t deteriorate, they can slowly leach their way into the groundwater, no matter where it starts. They have already done so in many places. The three states that have done the most testing — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — have the most contaminated sites, but other states will follow suit.
They’ve been dumped illegally and dumped legally because we didn't know any better. They’ve been used for decades in training exercises on military bases and at airports, then just washed away. The military has identified 400 of its sites with already existing or potential PFAS contamination. Some adulterated water is near dump sites, and some isn't close to any logical sources.
We've not avoided them ourselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 97 percent of us have some trace of PFAS in our blood already. And our bodies aren't much better at getting rid of them than water or heat. Doctors believe PFAS can accumulate in our blood for years.
That could be very bad, indeed.
There is not yet sufficient evidence to believe PFAS are a carcinogen but that hardly matters. There is evidence already that they can disrupt our metabolism, reduce fertility, impede fetal growth, increase obesity, enhance liver and kidney disease, cause thyroid disease, and interfere with our immune system's ability to fight infections.
So, are we all risk from this stuff? It appears the health risks are most associated with directly ingesting it, mostly through water. Those using groundwater are the most likely to encounter a PFAS plume, and that's a real problem here.
According to the EPA, systems using activated carbon treatment, ion exchange resins, and high-pressure membranes like nanofiltration or reverse osmosis eliminate the PFAS contamination. Most municipal systems use one or more of those strategies. That's good news if you live in most urban areas or communities with sophisticated water treatment systems. For example, Traverse City's municipal water has tested negative for PFAS.
But nearly 45 percent of Michiganders get their water from private or community wells, and around the country more than 13 million households depend on private well water. They and their children are most at risk, and their best solution is to connect to a municipal water system. Unfortunately, that's impossible for many people, and their only effective option is to install a reverse osmosis home water treatment system.
We don't yet know how much PFAS are out there working their way into the groundwater, and we don't know how to remove them once they do. Several states and the feds are now “studying” the problem.
Maybe we don't need our furniture to be quite so stain resistant.
Seriously? In 2017, the last year for which the Department of Transportation has good data, there were more than 95,000 reports of vehicles zooming passed school buses stopped with their red lights flashing. Ninety-five thousand. On average, seven children are killed and hundreds injured every year by nitwits driving by stopped school buses.
It's pretty simple: When one of those big yellow school buses is stopped with its red lights flashing, we have to stop. Period. Doesn't matter if you're following or approaching, flashing red lights mean stop.
There are now cameras in school buses. They will record your selfishness, police will come calling, prosecutors will be unpleasant; big fines, points on your license, and rightful scorn from your neighbors follow. Hit a child and add prison to the list.
No appointment is that important. Flashing red lights mean stop.