Industry Knew About Dangers of PFASs Decades Ago, But Kept It Secret


Research on the dangerous health effects of perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs)—chemicals widely used in everything from carpets and nonstick cookware to firefighting foams—was kept hidden for decades, according to a new editorial by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Grandjean wrote that industry-sponsored animal studies documented PFAS toxicity in 1978 but were not shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until 2000. This delay prevented the development of proper guidelines for safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water, according to Grandjean.

PFAS have been linked to a range of health problems, including testicular and kidney cancers, decreased birth weight, and thyroid disease. While most companies have stopped producing two forms of PFASs— perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—the chemicals persist in drinking water systems, and new forms of PFASs are raising concerns.

“It’s frustrating to be an environmental health researcher and spend years and years to characterize the exposures and the adverse health effects of these compounds, only to discover that most of that information was already known but had been kept secret,” Grandjean told Environmental Health News.

Grandjean’s revelation underlines the basic truth that allowing industry to voluntarily regulate itself does not work. Strong governmental oversight is essential.