A glass of ice water sits on a table

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Diving into the world of health and environmental regulations can feel daunting and difficult to navigate but these conversations are important and impact each and every one of us. At the forefront of these conversations recently have been Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and their ability to accumulate in soils, water, and animals. PFAS has been a source of concern for environmental advocates for decades so why is this making headlines now?

Introduction to PFAS

PFAS was accidentally discovered in 1938 by Roy J. Plunkett. These versatile chemicals are integral to a wide range of products including nonstick and waterproof materials, tents, makeup, electronics and many other everyday products. PFAS is so common because of the unique molecular structure that allows it to resist both oil and water. While this sounds good, this durability comes at a price. PFAS chemicals do not break down easily, remain in the environment for long periods of time, and can accumulate up the food chain. This earned them the nickname “forever chemicals” and made them a focal point for environmental and human health concerns as persistent pollutants. This has led to an increased interest in monitoring for these chemicals in lakes, rivers, and streams, and more recently, prompted new water monitoring guidelines in the U.S.

PFAS in the Great lakes

Photo by Annie Vo on Unsplash

Recently, a community-led testing effort showed PFAS levels as high as 7,900 parts per trillion in Lake Huron beach foam. “If you see foam on the beach itself, you should not swim that day,” said Cathy Wusterbarth, an Oscoda resident who leads the group Need Our Water. “That foam is toxic.”

“We felt gaslighted when they told us the foam was a ‘natural’ type of foam, so we tested the foam ourselves,” said Wusterbarth. “We found there is nothing natural about the PFAS foam in Lake Huron.”

What does the new EPA ruling mean?

In April 2024, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the establishment of the first-ever nationwide, legally enforceable drinking water standards to protect communities from six PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. While these new standards have been applauded by some, others argue that the regulations don’t go far enough or that they come too late.

Should I be concerned?

With the prevalence of PFAS in our environment, it’s reasonable to question the impact they have on our health and environment. Studies have linked these substances to negative health impacts such as cancer and immune system effects. As such, being aware of PFAS exposure sources and supporting efforts to regulate and reduce their use is important when advocating for public health and environmental protection.

What’s next?

You may be wondering what you can do. Being educated on the matter is a great start and you can learn more under the resource sections below.

If you have any PFAS concerns, feel free to submit a pollution report at https://www.theswimguide.org/report/