Maine is currently reckoning with PFAS contamination in everything from drinking water to wild deer. But there is still a lot unknown about the chemicals’ effects. Here’s a roundup of what we know so far and fill out this form if you have questions.
Three of the most commonly detected PFAS — often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they slowly break down in the environment — have been linked to an enzyme that indicates nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a study from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine published in Environmental Health Perspectives recently found.
Those specific chemicals are referred to as PFOS, PFOA and PFNA, and are three of the most-studied forever chemicals found in products such as non-stick pans, waterproof clothing and take-out containers.
Why it matters: Maine is reckoning with PFAS contamination in everything from drinking water and farm soil to freshwater fish and wild deer. But it remains unclear how much of the chemicals need to be consumed to be considered dangerous to our health, and what the effects of the chemicals are. PFAS have been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.
Essential background: Much of the PFAS contamination in Maine is traced back to the practice of spreading sludge on farmland starting in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was pitched as a cost-effective way to improve soil fertility and a way to get rid of waste products for local sewage treatment plants and paper companies.
Key quote: “This research clearly shows that PFAS need to be taken seriously as a human health concern because even after they are phased out, they persist in the environment,” Elizabeth Costello, a PhD student at the Keck School of Medicine and one of the lead authors of the study, said in a press release. “There is enough evidence, we believe, to demonstrate a need to clean up sources of exposure to PFAS and to prevent future exposures.”
One more thing: The research, which analyzed more than 100 studies evaluating PFAS exposure and liver damage in humans and in rats, found consistent results between PFAS exposure and an indicator of fatty liver disease in rodents. Establishing a clear cause and effect for certain PFAS chemicals in humans is more difficult as humans are exposed to so many chemical combinations.