With water being a necessity for all living cells including human life, can our daily H2O actually be detrimental to our well-being? As much as Erin Brokovich is a dramatisation of a true story, it highlights not just the concern communities have for public and environmental health, but also how the industry has become negligent of their due diligence.
“PFAS” is fast becoming a trending word globally, and in Australia, it is found most cases of PFAS contamination are in communities surrounding industrial sites, military bases and firefighting training grounds. But what is PFAS?
PFAS is not just one substance, but a family of chemicals known as Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances that have a backbone of carbon and fluorine atoms. They are considered useful due to their resistance in heat, oil and water in. PFAS may be present in a range of consumer goods such as Teflon, firefighting foam, stain-resistant fabrics and fast food wrappers.
Although the general public is exposed to small amounts of PFAS in our everyday life through exposure from dust, food, water and more, the main concern applies to people who live in areas contaminated with a higher level of PFAS compounds or work in industries that produce products containing PFAS.
How do PFAS Compounds enter the environment?
The global concern about PFAS compounds is due to the inability of PFAS compounds to degrade in the natural environment. Since PFAS compounds persist in the environment for long durations they can travel long distances in water and air currents affecting the greater community. Apart from affecting the water supply, PFAS compounds have been shown to be toxic to some animals such as fish which are ultimately consumed by humans.
The effects in humans
PFAS chemicals are readily absorbed through the gut and are not metabolised or broken down in the body. Because the elimination of PFASs from the human body is slow there is a risk that continued exposure to PFAS compounds can cause adverse health effects. While there is insufficient research in humans, adverse health effects have been demonstrated in animal studies but at significantly higher levels than are found in humans.
A recent report by the Commonwealth Health Department Expert Panel has concluded in the Expert Health Panel for PFAS Report that although there is limited or no evidence to link exposure to PFAS chemicals with human diseases and illnesses such as cancer, the health effects cannot be ruled out based on the current evidence. As a result, people living in or near areas that have been identified as having been contaminated by PFAS compounds should take precautionary steps to limit their exposure to these chemicals.
Click here for more information about the recent PFAS Report by the Australian Government Department of Health.