Forever Chemicals and the World

By Blair Walsh

Have you ever wondered about the materials in your clothes? Where they were made, who made them, and whether there are risks to wearing them? Although the risk is still not clear to most experts yet, toxic chemicals have been found in hundreds of products and clothing bought off the racks and clothing websites worldwide.
Chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances were invented as early as the 1940s to prevent stains and sticking on clothing. They are also used in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and firefighting foam. These chemicals create persistence in products such as pots, pans, and even your favorite bathing suit. Because these chemicals are used in our daily lives as we wear them and use them to cook with cookware, they made it into our supply of drinking water. Drinking water is a vital source to humanity which can be contaminated or polluted in many different ways. These substances and chemicals have been spreading into soil, rivers, lakes, and drinking water since the 1940s, and ever since they have started to be used as a resistance to the degradation of products that we use on a daily basis. Things that we use either for personal hygiene or food containers can also carry these chemicals, such as dental floss, shampoo, toilet paper, pizza boxes, and takeout containers. But these can also pollute soil, fish, livestock, and food products.
Researchers say the chemicals are present in the blood of nearly all Americans because of their utilization of the chemicals in food, water, and hygienic products. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl are extremely persistent in typical environment degradation; when these are consumed through our drinking water, among other sources, they can be harmful to our health. Research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that high levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl may lead to increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure, and decreased vaccine response in children because of how they do not easily degrade.
Fortunately, new state laws in the United States such as in California, Colorado, and Connecticut are targeting all persistent chemicals to try and remove as much as they can from our daily lives. This affects not only our bodies and health on a large scale, but the environment as well. Clothing brands falsely market their clothing as “environmentally sustainable” most of the time this is not true, because of the levels of persistent chemicals in them. These clothes are not sustainable and would mostly be found in fast fashion brands. As these chemicals are used to keep products persistent, they will not break down when thrown away.
Thankfully, after the last 20 years, the levels of these forever chemicals have declined and, according to the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, better filtration will make drinking water safer from those chemicals still remaining in the environment. This better type of filtration will also protect from potentially harmful substances that companies may produce in the future and the way this can make its way into what we consume.