A persistent problem: Why PFAS are public enemy number one

By Julia Wray | Published: 11-Oct-2021

Awareness of forever chemicals used in consumer products, including cosmetics, is growing – but why are such materials so often going unlabelled?

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Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals (more than 6,000, according to the US-based Personal Care Products Council – PCPC) that don’t exist in nature, which are used to make a wide variety of everyday products.

PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because the chemical compounds don’t naturally degrade, which means they end up contaminating groundwater for decades after their release into the environment.

They recently gained some cultural exposure among consumers through the 2019 Todd Haynes film Dark Waters, which fictionalised real-life lawyer Rob Bilott’s fight against chemicals giant DuPont and the pollution of drinking water with the forever chemical PFOA, also known as C8.

Studies have linked certain PFAS to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children.

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