The waters of Fountain Creek, polluted by the PFAS-based fire-fighting foam used by the nearby US Air Force base


© Benjamin Rasmussen / Guardian / Eyevine


Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFASs) are a family of synthetic molecules widely used in industry since the 1950s. Although the name is unfamiliar to most, these substances are actually very present in our lives as they are used in the tanning industry to treat leather, in the coating of non-stick cookware, as an emulsifier in household detergents and in personal care products. PFASs enter the environment through wastewater from processing plants, mismanagement of disposal, or direct use in the environment and are transported over kilometres via waterways and sea currents, persisting in the environment for a considerable length of time. These substances can be found almost everywhere on Earth, even in the Arctic or the Himalayas. Some of the areas most affected by PFAS pollution are found in the United States, the Netherlands, Italy and China. The main sources of contact for the population are ingestion of contaminated drinking water or food with high levels of these substances and an estimated 98% of the US population has traces of PFAS in their blood. The scientific community believes that the health risks are real and highlights possible correlations between exposure to these substances and immune system dysfunction, endocrine disruption linked to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes and problems linked to the cognitive development of children.

Laura Boscarato