Let science forever decide chemicals in water

Saying “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” is a mouthful – so let’s stick with the common abbreviation for this group of man-made chemi...



Saying “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” is a mouthful – so let’s stick with the common abbreviation for this group of man-made chemicals: PFAS. And no, you don’t want a bite of it. If consumed in high concentrations, PFAS may be harmful to human health.

But we don’t know how far to focus. That’s why the Biden administration is commissioning major new studies into their toxicity – and is seeking $ 10 billion through its infrastructure program to clean up and monitor sites where PFAS can contaminate drinking water.

It’s logic. Although much research has already been done on the potential impact of PFAS and health outcomes, there is consensus that new methods are needed to ensure that policies are based on sound science.

Unfortunately, a number of state and federal decision-makers do not wish to wait for the results of scientific research. Some jurisdictions have gone ahead with banning the use of PFAS in products, and a bill would immediately declare them hazardous substances. The country’s Democratic attorneys general recently wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency, urging the agency to make sweeping changes regarding the management of PFAS. And in June, EPA officials imposed new restrictions on the import and use of these chemicals.

The problem with this fear-mongering approach is that we don’t have readily available substitutes for these chemicals.

Although most non-chemists have probably never heard of them, PFAS are common in everyday manufacturing processes and products. They are a central part of semiconductor manufacturing.

They are used in airplanes and cars to prevent emissions from escaping into the atmosphere. They are in defibrillators and pacemakers. They are part of the personal protective equipment used by frontline healthcare workers.

We can take photos with our smartphones in the rain as PFAS are used to keep critical components dry. Stain-resistant mats and non-stick cookware contain PFAS, and many take-out cartons incorporate them to prevent liquids from seeping in.

In short, PFAS are very useful.

But they can persist in the environment or accumulate in our body. When a product containing PFAS disintegrates in a landfill, chemicals can enter the water supply. Studies have shown that virtually all Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood.

The EPA needs to find out what level of buildup is dangerous so that regulators can act on the basis of science, not superstition.

The point is that there are thousands of PFAS chemicals, each with different uses and risk profiles, and only a few of them have been studied in depth. It probably won’t make sense to regulate them as a single class.

If activists and the EPA were successful, vital US domestic semiconductor manufacturing, which supports tens of thousands of jobs, and vital business, consumer and scientific advancements, would come to a halt.

Instead of restricting the use of PFAS, policymakers should partner with manufacturers and focus on risk-based environmental stewardship regulations. If we banned PFAS outright, the price we would pay in terms of diminished health care and public safety – and diminished economic growth – would far outweigh the presumed risks.

Representative Mark Alliegro, Ph.D., is a cell biologist with a background in biochemistry and molecular biology. He currently represents Grafton County District 7 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and previously served as a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, program director at the National Science Foundation, and volunteer firefighter.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Let science forever decide chemicals in water
Let science forever decide chemicals in water
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