Making the Invisible Visible: The PFAS Project Lab with Alissa Cordner

Alissa Cordner is an associate professor of sociology and an expert on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Corder is Co-Director of The PFAS Project Lab, an interdisciplinary group of faculty, post-doctoral scholars, and students affiliated with the Social Science Environmental Health Research institute at Northeastern University in Boston.

The Lab studies social, scientific, and political factors related to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), while producing accessible research about PFAS contamination through collaborations with impacted communities.

Cordner’s area of expertise has focused on toxic chemicals throughout her career. Her research aims to uncover the causes and consequences of the PFAS contamination crisis, and gives community leaders, regulators, and everyday people the tools needed to comprehend and reduce PFAS contamination.

In her presentation on March 23, Cordner will describe the work her lab is currently doing, and will focus on a recent paper in Environmental Health Perspectives on federal testing for PFAS in public drinking water sources. In “Federal PFAS Testing and Tribal Public Water Systems”, Cordner and her co-authors (Kira Mok, Derrick Salvatore, Martha Powers, Phil Brown, Maddy Poehlein, and Otakuye Conroy-Ben) find that Tribal drinking water systems are disproportionately excluded from completed and planned PFAS testing efforts. The paper also identifies structural inequalities faced by Tribal communities in terms of drinking water, and barriers to doing more PFAS testing in Tribal communities.

PFAS are a class of more than 12,000 chemicals used in consumer products, industrial applications, and industrial firefighting foams. They are used in numerous consumer products such as food packaging, textiles, apparel, and non-stick cookware due to their stain, grease, and water resistance properties.

PFAS are linked to adverse health outcomes, including liver and kidney damage, reproductive and developmental harm, immune system impairment, and certain cancers. PFAS are toxic at exceedingly low exposure levels. These chemicals have been found in groundwater and public drinking water supplies in communities throughout Alaska due primarily to the dispersive use of PFAS in firefighting foams used by the military and airports.


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Professor Cordner’s research focuses on environmental sociology, the sociology of risk and disasters, environmental health and justice, and politics and participation. Her two major areas of research are the social and political aspects of wildfire risk management and the social and scientific discoveries of perfluorinated chemicals.

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