Alaska Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE-Alaska) Webinar: December 16, 2021 entitled ‘The Challenge of PFAS with Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum’

You can view a written transcript (created by ACAT’s CHE-Alaska Coordinator) here.

You can download Dr. Birnbaum’s presentation slides here.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class comprising thousands of ‘forever chemicals’ that are environmentally persistent and present in soils, drinking water, foods, and in the bodies of wildlife and people worldwide.  PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer products, industrial applications, and fire-fighting foams because of their stain resistance, durability, and nonstick properties.

PFAS’ environmental persistence and widespread distribution are of serious concern, as PFAS are associated with cancer, heart disease, birth defects, liver disease, and decreased immunity. More research on PFAS toxicity and regulation of this class of chemicals is needed to protect human and ecosystem health worldwide.  

On December 16th, CHE-Alaska we were joined by Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum, a toxicologist, microbiologist, and Scientist Emeritus and former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program. Dr. Birnbaum will be presenting on the challenges we face in dealing with widespread PFAS contamination, the subsequent public health crisis, and the urgent need for state and national regulations of this class of chemicals.

These issues are especially important for Alaskans, as the risk of PFAS exposure is heightened in Alaska due to decades of dispersive use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams at airports and military bases and the unintentional release of PFAS from these facilities. This has resulted in PFAS-contaminated drinking water for thousands of Alaskans from the North Slope to Southeast Alaska. The investigative report on PFAS by Alaska Community Action on Toxics identified more than 100 individual PFAS source areas at nearly 30 locations across Alaska (see ACAT’s 2019 report below).  

To help protect future generations, we urgently need comprehensive state and federal policies to end unnecessary uses of PFAS. In the Alaska State Legislature, bills have been introduced by Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Rep. Sara Hannan, Senate Bill 121 and House Bill 171, to establish enforceable drinking water standards, phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foam, and provide testing and safe water sources for communities affected by PFAS contamination. At the federal level, several bills have been introduced to protect drinking water and contaminated communities, prevent firefighter exposures, provide funding for remediation; and regulate PFAS in food packaging, textiles, personal care products, and firefighting foams. 

Linda S. Birnbaum, PhD, DABT, ATS, is a toxicologist, microbiologist, and Scientist Emeritus and former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, as well as a Scholar in Residence at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. As NIEHS director, Dr. Birnbaum oversaw research grants and shared the results of cutting-edge environmental health research with the public and policy makers. She also met with communities, including in Alaska, to better understand environmental health concerns and disparities. Throughout her career, Dr. Birnbaum has been particularly effective at bringing forward the mounting scientific evidence of harm of exposures to certain chemicals that are now ubiquitous in our products and environment. 

Related Resources: 

The EPA Must Act to Regulate PFAS as a Class – https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/565528-epa-must-protect-public-health-by-regulating-pfas-as-a-class

The True Cost of PFAS and the Benefits of Acting Now – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.1c03565

Threats to Drinking Water and Public Health in Alaska: The Scope of the PFAS Problem, Consequences of Regulatory Inaction, and Recommendations (ACAT, 2019) – https://www.akaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Report-Threats-to-Drinking-Water-and-Public-Health-in-Alaska-FINAL-web-version-9-24-19.pdf 

PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action – https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-strategic-roadmap-epas-commitments-action-2021-2024

The Perils of PFAS – A presentation by Dr. Linda Birnbaum to the Environmental Health Solutions Seminar Series – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKLGzAo47NQ

A Never-Ending Story of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)? – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.6b04806