How Worried Should We Be About “Forever Chemicals”?

By Hannah Docter-Loeb | Slate | November 8, 2023

Read the full article by Hannah Docter-Loeb (Slate)

"Recently Bloomberg News reported that YKK, a leading global supplier of zippers, had found perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the paint used on some of its products. The zippers join a long list of products that can contain PFAS, including nonstick pansdental flosswaterproof fabric, and even diapers. Exposure to PFAS has been associated with various cancerselevated cholesterol levelsliver damageimmune system interference, lower baby birth weight, and more.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances are just that—substances, plural. “You can think of it as a big family tree, with many different members,” explains Laurel Schaider, a senior scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. There are more than 16,000 different types of PFAS.

But what unites all the different molecules is their unique chemical structure, specifically the presence of the elements carbon and fluorine. All PFAS have carbon-fluorine bonds, which are some of the strongest in organic chemistry. They are extremely useful in consumer products, with the ability to create surfaces that are nonstick, stain-resistant, or water-repellent. If you have goods that have any of those qualities, there’s a good chance it’s thanks to PFAS."