A biohazard suit, made possible by PFAS and fossil fuels, was seen in 2021 at the Saint-Gobain plastics plant in New Hampshire, a major source of PFAS contamination. Photography by Annie Rubik.
Editor’s note: The following story first appeared in The Maine Monitor’s free environmental newsletter, Climate Monitor, delivered to inboxes every Friday morning. Subscribe to our free newsletter for important environmental news by registering at this link.
I’ve always thought of PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” as a kind of climate change issue. It is certain that the widespread pollution of our environment and our bodies with these persistent toxic chemicals does not need a connection to the climate to be so important. But both fall under the same broad umbrella anyway: oil extraction, industrial chemistry, and capitalist economics.
in “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation“The Pulitzer Prize-winning book that shaped most of my way of thinking about environmental health, journalist Dan Fagen describes how the modern chemical industry was born from coal tar that sprouted in Europe and America during the Industrial Revolution—”arguably, the first large-scale industrial waste,” he says. Fagen said the hydrocarbons that make up fossil fuels “have proven extremely useful to the new world of chemical manufacturing for the same reason that hydrogen and carbon are vital to the chemistry of life.” They created long, sturdy chains of atoms that allowed complex molecular life to flourish.
“Now, on the stable platform of hydrocarbon polymers in coal tar, chemists began to build a galaxy of new materials that were stronger, more attractive, and cheaper than nature could provide,” Fagin wrote. Dyes came first, and soon followed by paints, solvents, aspirin, sweeteners, softeners, detergents, inks, anesthetics, cosmetics, adhesives, photographic materials, ceilings, resins, and the first primitive plastics—all synthetic and all derived from coal tar, The Source of Commercial Chemistry”.
PFAS are synthetic fluorinated hydrocarbons, in which fluorine replaces most of the hydrogen, according to Last article on Cosmos. Likes most everything This is now a product of organic chemistry, creating PFAS based on those first coal-derived materials. Created using the same types of chemical processes to deliver potentially supernatural properties – burning eggs sliding off a Teflon pan, watery beads on a Gore-Tex jacket, a fire smoldering on jet-fueled runway.
Likes most aspects In modern capitalism, the applications of PFAS are quite intertwined with petrochemicals. Besides being the main ingredient in firefighting foam designed to target jet fuel; They have been used to encapsulate, protect and strengthen all types of oil-derived plastics. The data shows that plastic demand Oil extraction could be driven in the coming decades.
Besides the actual PFAS emission, the factories that manufacture and work with materials It emits strong greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The chemical industry is The largest user of energy in the United States, which is a major source and major customer of feedstocks from oil and gas refining – used in everything from plastics to fertilizers, which incidentally in industrial agriculture is related to this discussion as well. For years, the American Petroleum Institute Led by a former president From the American Chemistry Council, which Lobbying groups against the regulation of PFAS The major oil companies are counted among their members. The two often get together on issues such as Pushing for more fossil fuel extraction.
The purpose of this rabbit hole is not surprising: all of these massive extractive industries are interconnected and share common goals that often conflict with environmental health. We can also see this in their use of the same basic disinformation guide. just us Exon It worked to reduce the climate risks of fossil fuels in the 1970s, documents show that 3M worked on it suppress health risks From PFAS they and other companies Leader.
a lot of others endocrine disruption, like dioxins, derive more directly from fossil fuels than PFAS. But even today, companies that benefit from less regulation of all these materials Maintain a skeptical attitude – Even when these health risks More powered by science More than ever.
To read the full version of this newsletter, see Climate Monitor: The PFAS and Climate Change Link.
Annie Rubik has obtained the keys to the Climate Monitor newsletter while its regular author, Kate Cove, the observatory’s environmental reporter, is on vacation until November. Contact Annie with story ideas at: [email protected]
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