Cosmetics, cellphones, guitar strings: where we found 'forever chemicals'

By Juliane Gl├╝ge, Martin Scheringer and Gretta Goldenman | The Guardian | December 14, 2020

Read the full article by Juliane Glüge, Martin Scheringer and Gretta Goldenman (The Guardian)

"The thousands of chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are called “forever chemicals” because of their extreme resistance to degradation, called “persistence”. Each of us carries these chemicals in our bodies, and people will continue to be exposed for generations to come.

Many PFAS can affect our health. Exposures have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, liver damage, low birth weight, reduced immune responses and other negative impacts.

So why – since we know that PFAS are harmful – are they still being produced and used? And why are we not protecting ourselves from further exposure by eliminating or at least reducing some uses?

We decided to look into how widely these chemicals are being used to better understand whether all these uses are really needed. We sought inspiration in the UN Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer definition of “essential uses” – uses considered essential to health, safety or the functioning of our society, for which alternatives do not yet exist.

The key idea in the Montreal Protocol was to phase out non-essential uses of ozone-depleting substances. We realized that the protocol’s idea of “essential use” could serve as a model for how to pragmatically control chemicals in general – illustrated in the case of PFAS."