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 November 11th, CHE-Alaska was joined by Dr. Carla Ng, an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who leads a research lab modeling how PFAS interact with biological systems. Dr. Ng is the lead author of a recent research paper entitled, “Addressing Urgent Questions for PFAS in the 21st Century”, and it is these ‘Urgent Questions’ that we’re gathering to learn more about (please find a link to the article’s abstract in the resource list below).
In Alaska, the risk of PFAS exposure is heightened by decades of dispersive use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams at airports and military bases, releases from these facilities, and PFAS contamination of essential water supplies throughout the state. 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.
Addressing Urgent Questions for PFAS in the 21st Century (Ng et al., 2021) – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c03386
The Ng Lab webpage – https://sites.pitt.edu/~carlang/index.html
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
A Never-Ending Story of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)? – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.6b04806
PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action – https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-strategic-roadmap-epas-commitments-action-2021-2024
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33017053/
Alaska Legislature contact info – http://akleg.gov/index.php
Dr. Carla Ng is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh where they hold positions in both the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Environmental and Public Health. Dr. Ng leads a laboratory and research team which investigates and models the interactions between existing and new chemicals (including but not limited to PFAS) and organisms and ecosystems. Dr. Ng earned an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo and Ph.D. in Chemical and Biological Engineering from Northwestern University. Dr. Ng is also the recipient of NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship and prestigious CAREER Award.