New research shows that a category of toxic substances, often known as “forever chemicals,” has a big impact on the liver.
PFAS, short for “per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” are human-made chemicals found in anything from drinking water to food wrappers, cleaning products, cosmetics, paints and more, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study showed that these chemicals, which repel oil and fat, can cause liver cancer at highest levels of exposure.
“A really important part of the studies is actually being able to say that before these people got cancer, they had higher levels” of the chemicals, Jesse Goodrich, an environmental epidemiologist and the lead author, said.
“And that helps us to determine that it’s more likely in this situation that it’s actually PFAS that are associated with the cancer as opposed to just some sort of random chance,” added Goodrich.
Where does the term ‘forever chemicals’ comes from?
The term “forever chemicals,” coined by Harvard researcher Joe Allen, is a play on words.
The carbon molecules bond with fluorine instead of hydrogen.
“The F-C bond, the Forever-Chemical bond, is quite amazing, representing one of the strongest bonds in all of organic chemistry,” wrote Allen wrote in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post.
These molecules come with “a pernicious dark side,” he wrote. “The F-C bond is so strong that these chemicals never fully degrade. Ever. Like, for millennia ever.”
Are ‘forever chemicals’ safe for your body?
The short answer is no, although research on all the effects of PFAS is still ongoing.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that exposure to these chemicals can lead to a higher risk of cancer, high cholesterol levels as well as immune system and liver damage.
What are ‘forever chemicals’ in?
Elsie M. Sunderland, an environmental chemist at Harvard, said that all Americans have some amount of forever chemicals in their bloodstream.
“One of my undergrads did a day in the life of a Harvard student and tested things around campus. She found PFAS in her Doc Martens, in the carpet, in the furniture’s upholstery, in shower curtains. It’s also in cosmetics like lotions and mascaras. Eye drops actually have it,” she told Vox.
“And if you’re into outdoor activities there are a ton of them. They’re in ski waxes and bike chain oils and outdoor clothing.”
What can you do?
It may be hard to avoid PFAS, but Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist and the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, believes that the responsibility should fall on the manufacturers and the government to control these toxic substances.
Buying PFAS-free products in the future is the way to go, Blum added.