Many reading this article may have never heard of PFAS, but this deadly set of “forever chemicals” is set to become the asbestos of our time, and the scariest part of it is that it may be in the water you drink and the water shower in.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS for short, are “forever chemicals” that are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water.
PFAS is quickly becoming a hot topic across Australia and indeed the world with names such as Erin Brockovich now involved in a class action here in Australia.
Two of those class action lawsuits have already been filed in Katherine in the Northern Territory and Oakey in Queensland in regards to PFAS contamination.
In Western Australia some residents are concerned after their water supply was tested and shown to contain higher than ideal levels.
Brockovich has said “It’s the potential for an emerging national crisis. This is a dangerous chemical. Companies and governments have been warned for many years to keep an eye out for this.”
Most of the current controversy surrounds the use of firefighting foams such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) which was used to fight fires and for firefighting training from the 1970s to the mid-2000s.
PFAS is also found in heat and stain resistant products such as Teflon, scotch guard and many other products manufactured by 3M. PFAS can be released into the environment from landfill sites where products and materials containing these chemicals breakdown and can get into surface and ground water through sewage discharges.
The biggest problem with PFAS (PFOS AND PFOA) is that they do not break down in the environment and can travel for long distances through water and air. They are in fact known to bio- accumulate which means they can build up over time in animals including humans. PFAS contamination has been linked in studies in the US to infertility and many other serious health concerns such as thyroid disease, suppressed immune functions and even cancer.
The Commonwealth Department of Defence is undertaking PFAS investigations at various sites in Western Australia—including:
Scientific knowledge regarding PFAS’ environmental occurrence, effects of exposure, test methods and remediation technologies is rapidly evolving worldwide.
Filtration media known to significantly reduce PFAS is Activated carbon and Reverse Osmosis.