Scientists are probing the possible negative health effects of a chemical commonly used in water and stain-resistant clothing, nonstick cookware, and other products.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more popularly known as PFAS, have contaminated the soil and water, including sources of drinking water.
"We're finding them contaminating many rivers, many lakes, many drinking water supplies," stated Linda Birnbaum, the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. "And we're finding them not only in the environment, but we're finding them in people."
More specifically, PFAS have been found in the bloodstream and, because they do not breakdown easily, the compounds can stay in the human body for years or even decades. However, not enough studies have been conducted to investigate the side effects of PFAS to the human body.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its website, revealed that some PFAS have been found to affect a child's growth and learning, affect a woman's chances of getting pregnant, increase the cholesterol level, increase the risk of developing cancer, and influence the immune system.
Animal models exposed to high levels of the chemicals have experienced changes in liver, pancreatic, and thyroid function.
"We still don't know the precise molecular ways that they produce toxicity," explained Jamie Dewitt, a toxicologist at East Carolina University.
In a previous study, Dewitt and his team found evidence that one PFAS chemical called PFOA can interfere with the body's response to vaccines in both animals and humans.
Regulation Of PFAS
Due to the public outcry, several public health agencies, including the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, have increased funding for the study of PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency is also looking into setting a safety limit for some PFAS in drinking water.
In response to the concerns, some states are taking action to limit public exposure to the potentially toxic chemicals.
Michigan will begin screening levels of five forms of PFAS chemicals, such as PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFBS, in drinking water. Public officials stated that 49 investigations are currently underway in areas that are known to be contaminated with PFAS.
The Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey, meanwhile, is ordering five industrial companies to pay for investigation and cleanup of sites contaminated with toxic PFAS. The agency said that the companies were responsible for contamination of air and water in New Jersey.