What you don't know won't hurt you.
Or will it? In the case of the family of chemicals known collectively as PFAS, it is becoming increasingly clear that the decades of relative—or studied—ignorance about the effects of these chemicals on human health are now taking their toll.
PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are extremely important in the sealing industry, playing an important role in products such as seals and gaskets.
PFAS enter the environment through emissions from plants that make or use the substances, or through the use of PFAS-containing products, such as fire-extinguishing foams, textile impregnation agents, lubricants or PFAS-containing products in the waste stream. Some are harmful, while others are not.
However, associations have been found between exposure to these chemicals and a wide range of health effects. To date, these include altered immune and thyroid function, liver disease, high cholesterol, increased risk of some cancers—including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers—insulin dysregulation, kidney disease, reduced fertility and reduced fetal growth.
And that may not be all. There still are many types of PFAS about which scientists know little, if anything, according to the RIVM, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands—the country I live in.