Silent Spring Institute Northeastern University--Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute Michigan State University Toxics Action Center Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition Testing for PEASE

How “forever chemicals” might impair the immune system

Stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pots were once the epitome of “better living through chemistry,” their space-age properties conferred by molecules known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). But in the early 2000s, researchers began to discover that PFAS were somehow reaching the farthest corners of the planet—from polar bears in Alaska (1) to pilot whales in the Faroe Islands of the North Atlantic (2). These molecules contain chains of carbon peppered with fluorine atoms, which together form one of the strongest known chemical bonds. That helps these chemicals excel at repelling grease and water but also makes them astonishingly resistant to degradation in the environment (3).

Amid a flurry of new studies, scientists are still figuring out what risks these ubiquitous “forever chemicals” pose to public health (see “PFAS Politics”). Epidemiologists and toxicologists point to myriad possible consequences, including thyroid disease, liver damage, and kidney and testicular cancers (4). Impacts on the immune system are a particular concern. Read more…