PFAS, otherwise known as "forever chemicals", are a group of man-made chemicals used to make products resistant to heat, water, oil, and stains. Research has linked human exposure to an increased risk for several health complications.
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and has been identified by the CDC as a public health concern. Dawn Nelson, a state toxicologist with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, says "PFAS are long-chained, fluorinated carbon chemicals. One of the reasons why they are such an issue is that they tend to stay in the environment and our bodies for a long time and they tend to bioaccumulate." While there is a slow movement towards eliminating PFAS chemicals from consumer products, many corporations continue to produce products containing these harmful chemicals.
The group of chemicals is used in a wide array of products, ranging from umbrellas to firefighting foam. According to Greg Montgomery, the Department of Environmental Quality's Lead in School Drinking Water Rule Manager, the organization is researching areas with a high concentration in Montana, "Our agency is evaluating the state looking for potential sources. Generally, we look near military bases or airports, where those foams have been used in the past."
Traces of PFAS chemicals have been found in nearly all human beings and it is estimated over 200 million Americans' drinking water is contaminated due to the chemicals. It has seeped into groundwater over the course of the last several decades.
On Monday, February 13th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced $18,914,000 in funding for small and disadvantaged communities to address emerging contaminants, including PFAS. "EPA is delivering on its strategic commitment to address PFAS and emerging contaminants with more than $18 million for infrastructure projects that will safeguard Montana’s drinking water for years to come,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “These funds will help water providers invest in treatment technologies and solutions to contamination concerns in the communities that need them most.”
There is still ongoing research to understand the long-term health implications of PFAS. However, several peer-reviewed studies have confirmed the link between exposure to high levels of PFAS chemicals and adverse health effects. Nelson explains, "Some of the health effects that have been seen have been related to an increase in cholesterol, so liver changes, which affect cholesterol levels. There are impacts to the immune system. Impacts to pregnancy, particularly high blood pressures associated with PFAS and some changes to birth weight with babies."
Find out more information on the types of products still containing PFAS here.