Part 6: PFAS: How Exposed Am I?

Some of us, like members of the military, have suffered heavy exposure to PFAS due to their repeated participation in emergency exercises with chemical laden firefighting foams.

Others of us, like people who either work in, or live near, chemical plants, drink and ingest potentially more PFAS than the rest of the population.

And that’s a public and social “betrayal,” says Anna Robuck, University of Rhode Island (URI) doctoral candidate and STEEP – Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFAS – Trainee, discussing human exposure to PFAS and the relatively little that’s been done to protect people from these “forever chemicals.”

While the majority of us – around 98 or 98 percent of Americans – carry PFAS in our blood, mostly through drinking water intake, there are portions of the population, especially veterans and chemical factory workers, who bear the brunt of heavy exposure.

Robuck talks about the irony of this heavy exposure in “Forever Chemicals: PFAS – How Am I Exposed?” The piece is the sixth of an eight-part STEEP video shorts series, “Silent Chemicals, Loud Science,” that explores problems posed by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), explains how STEEP science is shedding light on the issues, and offers practical and positive steps for making our daily lives safer.

It’s “betrayal,” it’s “unethical,” says Robuck, that people who have served their country, that people who depend on chemical companies to put food on the table, would be so exposed. But the truth of the matter, she says, is that it costs a lot of money to pay for the type of onerous testing needed to prove, without question, the levels of PFAS in people’s bodies and drinking water.

But until we do, says Robuck, a student of STEEP lead researcher Rainer Lohmann, a URI chemical oceanographer, we won’t get far in determining the role that PFAS plays in human disease, including cancer and thyroid conditions.

Robuck, a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar and a 2019 Switzer Fellow, says we need to keep going, we need to find “unifying solutions” to this public health problem and social challenge. To do anything else, she says, is “unacceptable.”

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