PFAS in the spotlight across the globe



From the halls of the U.S. Congress to an international gathering in Zurich, policymakers, scientists, regulators, and others are responding to health concerns about a class of chemicals known by the acronym PFAS. NIEHS-supported research contributes new insights into the ways PFAS may affect the health of individuals and communities.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, possess a variety of useful qualities for industry and commerce. At the same time, they are highly persistent in the environment and are linked to effects on the immune system, hormone levels, neurodevelopment, pregnancy outcomes, cancer, and other health concerns, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Congressional hearing - NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., testified at a Sept. 26 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management. Subcommittee Chair Sen. Rand Paul, M.D., of Kentucky and Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters, J.D., of Michigan opened the hearing, titled “The Federal Role in the Toxic PFAS Chemical Crisis. ”Subcommittee members also heard from representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Defense, and Government Accountability Office. Representatives from communities in Michigan and New Hampshire testified on a second panel.

Long-term concern“The carbon fluorine bond is one of the strongest ever created by man, and it’s rarely seen in nature,” said Birnbaum, referring to a key feature of the structure of these chemicals. “The chemical composition of PFAS imparts high stability for consumer product design, but also makes PFAS extremely problematic in the environment, because they don’t easily degrade. In fact, PFAS remain in the environment for so long that scientists are unable to estimate an environmental half-life.”

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