Nav: Home

The never-ending story: Chemicals that outlive -- and harm -- us

February 22, 2017

Chemical manufacturers have agreed to pay $670 million in damages to people with cancer and other health harm from exposure to a recently phased-out highly fluorinated chemical. In a peer-reviewed feature article to appear February 22nd in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers highlight that thousands of related chemicals continue to provide water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick properties to furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics, cookware, food packaging, and other products worldwide.

The researchers from Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States call for regulation of the entire class of highly fluorinated chemicals. Exposure to the most well-studied of these substances has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning in adults as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children.

This class of chemicals does not break down--ever--and can remain in the environment for thousands of years. "I am concerned that researchers and regulators are continuing to focus on a few phased-out chemicals rather than the thousands of related substances in use today," said Dr. Ian Cousins, co-author of the paper and Professor at Stockholm University. "Unless we broaden our focus, future generations will be increasingly exposed via contaminated water, air, and food."

"Is the convenience of water and grease resistance worth risking our health?" asked Dr. Arlene Blum of UC Berkeley and the Green Science Policy Institute. "Given their potential for serious harm, we must stop putting highly fluorinated chemicals into consumer products unless they are absolutely necessary."

"The phased-out chemicals, which were found to be harmful, have been replaced by hundreds of related 'chemical cousins'," explains Tom Bruton of UC Berkeley and the Green Science Policy Institute. "Like the older substances, these new fluorinated compounds stay forever in the environment and may be similarly toxic."

In the 2015 Madrid Statement, more than 200 scientists agreed that the production and use of highly fluorinated chemicals should be limited. "Due to the vast number of chemicals in this family, it is not feasible to evaluate all of them one at a time," says Dr. Jamie DeWitt, a co-author of the feature and Associate Professor at East Carolina University.

The chemical industry claims the replacements for the phased-out chemicals are safe because many do not build up in humans like the old ones did. Nonetheless, we are constantly exposed if these chemicals are in the food we eat or the water we drink," explains Dr. Christopher Higgins, a co-author of the paper and Associate Professor at the Colorado School of Mines. "Current data suggest that the replacement chemicals are just as likely--if not more likely--to end up in our drinking water and in our crops due to contamination of soil and water."

These chemicals travel the world in water and air currents and can now be found in the ocean depths, mountain tops and every living creature. "It is surprising and sad that the planet, all people and all wildlife are contaminated with highly fluorinated chemicals," said Blum. "It is indeed 'a small world after all' when it comes to toxics."

Some good news is that a number of leading retail brands including IKEA, Crate and Barrel, H&M and Levi Strauss are eliminating all highly fluorinated chemicals from their products. And Target and GoreTex just announced they are also beginning the process of removing them.

"We are using these chemicals in a wide range of applications where they are non-essential," says Dr. Zhanyun Wang, lead author of the article and Senior Scientist at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. "Maybe we need them for a Himalayan expedition, but do we really need them in our surf shorts or our blue jeans?" he asks. "The public should be involved in defining 'essential' and 'non-essential' uses, and the chemical industry needs to develop safer alternatives for essential uses."
-end-
Available for Interviews for A Never-Ending Story of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)?:

Dr. Zhanyun Wang, ETH Zurich, +41 44 633-4437, Zhanyun.wang@chem.ethz.ch
Dr. Ian Cousins, Stockholm University, +46 768 933668, Ian.Cousins@aces.su.se
Dr. Christopher Higgins, Colorado School of Mines, (720) 984-2116, chiggins@mines.edu
Dr. Jamie DeWitt, East Carolina University, (252) 744-2474, dewittj@ecu.edu
Dr. Philippe Grandjean, Harvard University, pgrand@hsph.harvard.edu
Dr. Arlene Blum, UC Berkeley & GSP, (510) 919-6363, arlene@greensciencepolicy.org
Tom Bruton, UC Berkeley & GSP, (773) 628-4452, tom@greensciencepolicy.org

For more information: http://greensciencepolicy.org/highly-fluorinated-chemicals

American Public Health Association policy statement here

C8 Science Panel with probable links to human disease here

The Green Science Policy Institute provides unbiased scientific information to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate more informed decision-making about chemicals used in consumer products in order to protect health and environment worldwide.

Green Science Policy Institute

Related Cancer Articles:

Radiotherapy for invasive breast cancer increases the risk of second primary lung cancer
East Asian female breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy have a higher risk of developing second primary lung cancer.
Cancer genomics continued: Triple negative breast cancer and cancer immunotherapy
Continuing PLOS Medicine's special issue on cancer genomics, Christos Hatzis of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., USA and colleagues describe a new subtype of triple negative breast cancer that may be more amenable to treatment than other cases of this difficult-to-treat disease.
Metabolite that promotes cancer cell transformation and colorectal cancer spread identified
Osaka University researchers revealed that the metabolite D-2-hydroxyglurate (D-2HG) promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition of colorectal cancer cells, leading them to develop features of lower adherence to neighboring cells, increased invasiveness, and greater likelihood of metastatic spread.
UH Cancer Center researcher finds new driver of an aggressive form of brain cancer
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers have identified an essential driver of tumor cell invasion in glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer that can occur at any age.
UH Cancer Center researchers develop algorithm to find precise cancer treatments
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers developed a computational algorithm to analyze 'Big Data' obtained from tumor samples to better understand and treat cancer.
New analytical technology to quantify anti-cancer drugs inside cancer cells
University of Oklahoma researchers will apply a new analytical technology that could ultimately provide a powerful tool for improved treatment of cancer patients in Oklahoma and beyond.
Radiotherapy for lung cancer patients is linked to increased risk of non-cancer deaths
Researchers have found that treating patients who have early stage non-small cell lung cancer with a type of radiotherapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy is associated with a small but increased risk of death from causes other than cancer.
Cancer expert says public health and prevention measures are key to defeating cancer
Is investment in research to develop new treatments the best approach to controlling cancer?
UI Cancer Center, Governors State to address cancer disparities in south suburbs
The University of Illinois Cancer Center and Governors State University have received a joint four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help both institutions conduct community-based research to reduce cancer-related health disparities in Chicago's south suburbs.
Leading cancer research organizations to host international cancer immunotherapy conference
The Cancer Research Institute, the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy, the European Academy of Tumor Immunology, and the American Association for Cancer Research will join forces to sponsor the first International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel in New York, Sept.

Related Cancer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...