As Maine’s PFAS task force begins discussing regulation in its third meeting, it’s important to remember what’s at stake. These ‘forever chemicals’ contaminating our soils, waterways and bodies can cause problems we cannot afford to ignore. While politicians weigh economic costs with population-wide health risks, it is our responsibility as citizens to be informed about the personal risks PFAS chemicals pose to us and our loved ones, and to remind lawmakers that it is their duty to protect our well-being at the state level.

‘PFAS’ refers to an ever-growing family of chemicals valued for their unique properties used in industrial processing, nonstick and stain repellent household products, firefighting films, food packaging and beyond. There may even be measurable levels of PFAS chemicals in dental floss.

At high concentrations PFAS are toxic, with health effects ranging from liver and reproductive system damage to cancers. PFAS can also last for decades in the human body. As a result, the EPA has issued a 70 part-per-trillion health advisory level on PFAS content in drinking water.

The clear solution is that Maine should to enforce this 70 ppt limit by reducing exposure sources of PFAS such as sludge spreading, and we should be relatively safe. Unfortunately, this limit is based on old science, which states that toxic chemicals are always more dangerous at higher doses. Recent evidence suggests this is not the case for a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruption is a recent term in public health that pops up everywhere, from sunscreen to plastic water bottles (BPA is toxic because it is an endocrine disruptor). These chemicals interfere with the complex system that allows different parts of the human body to ‘speak’ to each other. This system is essential in almost every aspect of life, especially in childhood development. When young children or pregnant women are exposed to some endocrine disruptors, it can wreak havoc on the young child’s health and brain development. These effects often continue to be shown generations after exposure to the endocrine disruptor. Worse, endocrine disruptors can reverse what we all expect: They can be more toxic at lower doses.

Recently, scientists have been finding evidence that PFAS chemicals are often endocrine disruptors. This implies that even low doses may not be safe, as even a tiny quantity of PFAS may build up and influence multiple organs in the body. This may even occur below the EPA 70 ppt level, and implies there may be no safe dose of PFAS.

The crux of the problem is the variety of PFAS. They keep being invented faster than scientists can produce evidence of their toxic nature. Of the hundreds of PFAS, maybe two are well-studied in the context of endocrine disruption. That, coupled with the fact that PFAS are not removed naturally from the environment, makes this a public health crisis that should worry all present and future Mainers.

The only way to solve this problem is to remove all new sources of PFAS and stop exposure to PFAS that already exist in the environment.

Without stopping production and use of all PFAS chemicals as a class, other unregulated chemicals will be used, and the process will begin again with different names but similar consequences.

Without stopping current exposures, we will continue to recycle the PFAS chemicals we’ve already put into the environment, risking both ourselves and all future generations. The practice of sludge spreading illustrates this well. When contaminated sludge is used in farming, it ends up in food. Once eaten it becomes waste, returning to sludge, and repeating the process. Every cycle, these chemicals can accumulate, interfering with normal bodily functions. Every time we are exposed, we face steadily increasing risk of a variety of health effects.

Maine is at a pivotal moment, not only for its citizens, but on the national stage, as we lead a nationwide fight for public health. We have an opportunity to stop practices such as sludge spreading and ban these dangerous chemicals as a class once and for all. Will we stand for our health and control what we put in our own bodies?

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: