What are forever chemicals?


And why are we now hearing about them?

In: 18

Forever chemicals are chemicals that don’t breakdown within a reasonable amount of time.

Plastic is the classic example.

They’re basically man made chemical compounds that degrade very slowly. That was part of the appeal at first, but then they started getting smaller without breaking down into other things like organic molecules.

We’re just hearing about them mostly because they’re truly a new thing. Companies have tried to keep the public in the dark about the dangers, but they’re literally everywhere now.

This stuff has no nutritive value and is basically going to end up starving most of the current life on earth if it can’t be filtered out in some way. Certain fungus and wax worms are being found to be able to digest it, but it would take something on the levels of algae digesting it to actually do anything about them now

There are many forms of them, we have engineered many compounds which are more stable than natural minerals. I don’t know what you’re hearing about now, but one of them are [PFAS](https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-explained ) (polyfluoroalkyl substances). These are very stable compounds for which there is no natural process or microorganism that breaks them down.

“Forever chemical” is used to describe any chemical that there’s no natural process that breaks them down. Usually, it’s used for the worst kinds of these, where we don’t know of anything that breaks them down (even plastics slowly break down over tens of thousands of years).

Hundreds of millions of years ago, this included the stuff plants were made out of. There was nothing that could break down leaves or wood, so that stuff just piled up for millions of years before fungi came along that could break them down.

Today, we’ve got technology that lets us use identify more chemicals and measure even the smallest amounts of it. So, we’re increasingly aware when we pollute and find that the chemicals we dump into the environment jut stick around (and get carried by water, leach into the soil, or work their way into our food). We’re eating, drinking, and breathing a lot of man-made chemicals that never breakdown, and we have very little idea what the health effects are.

PFAS and PFOS (pronounced generally as pee-fass and pee-fohs) are names you’re going to hear more and more. We use these chemicals everywhere – they’re in washing detergents, toothpaste, and most importantly in firefighting foam that is used on burning airplanes. They have recently been determined to cause cancer, even when the dose is insanely low. These chemicals build up in your body and don’t go away easily (some research shows that donating blood on a very regular basis might help). They do not break down in natural settings, and in the last few weeks we have apparently found them in dangerous levels in rainwater around the world.

When I say “insanely low” and “dangerous levels” we’re talking one part per *trillion*. Imagine ONE THOUSAND Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water, then put a couple drops of PFAS in there. That’s literally what testing levels are being set at right now. This is a big problem, and science hasn’t figured out what to do about it yet. It’s all very new, and you’ll be hearing about it for a long time.