Chemists have identified how to destroy “forever chemicals” in a low-cost way for the first time, new research says. Scientists have linked exposure to the substances, known as PFAS, at certain levels to serious health risks, including cancer and birth defects. Their resistance to water, oil and stains make them highly useful. PFAS are used in hundreds of everyday objects from frying pans to make-up. But it is these properties that make them so difficult to destroy. PFAS stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. There are around 4,500 of these fluorine-based compounds and they are found in almost every dwelling on Earth in products including food packaging, non-stick cookware, rain gear, adhesives, paper and paints. They have been identified in low levels in rainwater globally – but if they infiltrate water or soil in high level, they can become a serious concern. Research remains ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure can lead to various health effects.
“There is an association between exposure and adverse outcomes in every major organ system in the human body,” Elsie Sunderland, professor of environmental chemistry at Harvard University, tells BBC News.