New NIST Database of ‘Forever Chemicals’ Will Help Scientists Monitor Environmental Pollution

NIST | February 15, 2024

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"Stain-resistant clothing, fast-food wrappers, extreme weather gear such as certain jackets and pants — these products get many of their desirable features from a class of manufactured chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). But there’s a major downside: Researchers have found evidence that certain PFAS can potentially cause cancer and other serious health effects.

Governmental agencies and environmental organizations are increasingly monitoring PFAS, but there are thousands of different chemical structures of PFAS with only a small fraction that can be measured with high confidence. 

“There is no single authority on what is PFAS or what makes up PFAS,” said NIST biologist Jared Ragland. “We know what a few hundred of them look like structurally, but there could be 9,000 or more possible different PFAS structures. It’s not a small problem.”