Last week I attended a virtual symposium on PFAS at University of Michigan to keep up to speed on the science of this quickly moving issue. As usual, I came away floored by some new information. Unfortunately, with PFAS it always seems to be concerning information.
The first talk was by Dr. Elsie M. Sunderland who works at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Her research involves figuring out what kinds of PFAS are out there in our environment, how those chemicals are moving through it, and how they end up in humans and wildlife. One of the points she made was there are 600 known types of these fluorinated chemicals created and used by humans out of 8000 possible types according to a recent EPA estimate.
This is a problem for two reasons. One, as Dr. Sunderland pointed out, analytical chemists like her can’t even keep up with figuring out how to test for all the different types of PFAS getting spewed into our environment. Industry is developing them and using them too fast. And this leads us to point two - how can we keep up with learning the harms to our health and the environment of this quickly growing list if we struggle to keep up with testing to simply find them?
That’s why we’ve been advocating for regulating PFAS as a class. Regulate them all because we know they’re all persistent in the environment and in our bodies, and all the ones we’ve studied are dangerous. There’s not enough resources in the world to keep playing whack-a-mole regulating these piecemeal. That won’t protect the health of our families.