When a person hears the phrase “chemicals forever,” they’re unlikely to immediately respond: “Mmm! I want that in my body!” But these so-called eternal chemicals—technically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) and chemicals like bisphenols—are absolutely everywhere. It is a statistical certainty that a person reading this article has chemicals in their bloodstream and possibly other tissues all the time.
Substances such as PFAS and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are considered eternal chemicals because they do not break down in the natural environment or in our own bodies. It is precisely this versatility that makes them so popular with companies; Smear some chemicals on a cooking pan and suddenly you have a non-stick pan. Lay them on a fabric and maybe your shirt will be stain resistant.
Although some regulators may want to monitor these chemicals to learn more about their potential health effects, they can be circumvented through a process known as “unfortunate substitution”: when a chemical is banned, scientists simply design a slightly different molecule, that fulfills the same basic function but has not been banned.
As a result of this process, it is now very likely that the products you use will permanently contain chemicals such as PFAS. PFAS are linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, liver disease, an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and even fertility problems. According to the words of Dr. Sara Brosché, Scientific Advisor at the International Pollutants Elimination Network, the PFAS in our environment and bodies could create a future not dissimilar to dystopian science fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale.
“PFAS are linked to problems related to fertility and endocrine disruption,” Brosché said. She established that The Handmaid’s Tale is about a fertility crisis, caused in part by pollution, leading to a patriarchal and authoritarian society. “Not the whole scenario – of course that has many other implications – but if you just look at the premise: what if we couldn’t reproduce anymore?”
Here are six of the most common products that contain PFAS or other permanent chemicals.
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PFAS and other Forever chemicals are particularly popular with manufacturers because they can help make products waterproof. Because of this, umbrellas, shower curtains and other plastic products that need to be water resistant often contain one or more PFAS. Just the slip resistance you want on the top of your umbrella (but not under your feet) is a double edged sword with this particular product.
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