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PFAS research and removal funds essential

The more people learn about PFAS, the more alarmed they get. It’s imperative for Biden to pour funding into this progressing health and environmental catastrophe.

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash
Allies and Partners

Newburyport Daily News Staff.

The matter of PFAs connects directly to ACES's "Merrimack River Rescue" movement.

Like DDT, the family of chemical compounds known as PFAS has almost become a household acronym. That’s a good thing.

When scientists discovered DDT was killing off the bald eagle — the symbol of American freedom — the insecticide was banned forever. The population of the bald eagle, and many other birds and animals, slowly but surely returned. Now, bald eagles are a frequent site across the North Shore and Merrimack Valley.

The story of PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances) is still in its relatively early stages. The reason for that is because unlike DDT, which was used as a pesticide, albeit in large quantities, PFAS is used in everyday products — and has been for more than 70 years.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an agency affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, PFAS are used to “keep food from sticking to packaging or cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective. PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, and electronics.”

Not only are PFAS used in many products, it is ever present in the environment because it has been used for so long. These chemicals have been found in streams and rivers — including the Merrimack and Shawsheen — as well as New Hampshire water supplies.

In a perfect storm of circumstances, PFAS chemicals bond in such a way that they may take thousands of years to break down. Certainly, when it was created by scientists working for Dupont and later manufactured by 3M, it was probably considered a wonder chemical for all of its potential uses.

But it has now become an environmental and health nightmare. And, unlike DDT, which had quantifiable health effects on animals, the negative health effects of PFAS on humans are just now beginning to be understood.

“One report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans,” according to the NIEHS. “Another NHANES report suggested blood levels of PFOS and PFOA in people have been reduced since those chemicals were removed from consumer products in the early 2000s. However, new PFAS chemicals have been created and exposure to them is difficult to assess.”

That last phrase should scare everyone: “difficult to assess.”

New chemicals which are known to be harmful to humans are still being introduced into the marketplace without any understanding of how they might be impacting people’s health.

This is what we do know, according to NIEHS: “Health effects include altered metabolism, fertility issues, reduced fetal growth and increased risk of being overweight or obese, increased risk of some cancers, and reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections.”

The agency goes on to say, “While knowledge about the potential health effects of PFAS has grown, many questions remain unanswered. Therefore, NIEHS continues to fund or conduct research to better understand the effects of PFAS exposure.”

This all highlights the importance of recent news that 32 Democratic senators, along with several independents, wrote a jointly signed letter to President Joe Biden calling for more funding in the federal budget to improve data and research, and fund testing and cleanup efforts for PFAS chemicals.

“The prevalence of PFAS combined with the adverse health impacts associated with exposure — including developmental effects, changes in liver, immune and thyroid function and increased risk of some cancers — requires a comprehensive approach,” reads the letter, which was signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Statehouse reporter Christian Wade wrote recently that the lawmakers asked for more funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address “critical research gaps” related to PFAS contaminants in drinking water supplies.

The federal spending package should also include money to provide blood testing to current and former service members — and their families — who served at more than 700 military installations where PFAS contamination has been detected in tests, they wrote.

The lawmakers also said more federal funding should be devoted to testing for PFAS in agriculture, the food supply, and consumer products.

They want the Biden administration to provide “financial support” to farmers, food producers and growers if they are forced to abandon PFAS-contaminated land or remove products from the commercial market.

The more people learn about PFAS, the more alarmed they get. It’s imperative for Biden to pour funding into this progressing health and environmental catastrophe. Millions of people are at risk. More research equals more information. More information should lead to stricter guidelines — or a decision not to use these chemicals at all.

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