(WKBN) – They’re known as the forever chemicals — PFAS. That class of chemicals was widely used in the U.S. since the ’40s in thousands — perhaps millions — of products. They’re not as common as they used to be, but some of the consequences are sticking around.
PFAS are manmade chemicals. They were first used as a way to waterproof tanks.
Scientists discovered these chemicals have all sorts of great properties. They are nonstick, water repellant and stain repellant.
The Environmental Protection Agency says PFAS can be found in nonstick coating on pans. The fabric of your furniture could have been coated with a spray containing PFAS. Food containers sometimes have the chemicals inside.
“The industry marketed PFAS as this new and great thing to make our lives easier,” said Lisa Daniels, director of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water. “PFAS was in Teflon. Everyone who cooks loves nonstick cookware. Things don’t cook to it, you don’t burn your eggs.”
They’re also used to waterproof tents and umbrellas, and can be found in firefighting foam.
It’s that foam that the EPA says is a major source of water contamination around military bases and fire training facilities.
Currently, the EPA does not officially regulate PFAS. It has a “health advisory level” in place that will tell you if levels are too high in drinking water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says studies have linked PFAS to birth defects in newborns, delayed development and stillbirth. PFAS can cause liver enzyme problems, testicular and kidney cancer, and increased cholesterol.
The CDC says these chemicals can cause vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, to be less effective in a child.
The biggest problem is PFAS don’t break down and can accumulate in the body over time. According to the Environmental Working Group, the chemicals are present in 99% of people’s blood.
Pennsylvania has a plan to help figure out how far-reaching this problem is and keep people safe. It’s designated about half-a-million dollars to test drinking water across the state.
It’s testing 400 sites near military bases, fire training sites, landfills and manufacturing sites for drinking water contamination.
There are 11 different PFAS the state is testing for.
The local EPA did identify nearly 500 locations for possible contamination but because of budgetary limits, not every location can be tested right now. That sample collection should be wrapping up in the next few days.
“That’s really when several states, including Pennsylvania, became aware that PFAS is being detected in some of our state drinking water systems,” Daniels said. “It really has been widely used for many, many years with very little controls in place.”
Ohio has tested its water for PFAS. According to the Ohio Department of Environmental Protection’s website, none of the locations tested in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties showed to have an excessive amount of PFAS contamination.