Chemicals made for eternity

By Christian BlockLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

Over decades, PFA substances have been able to proliferate. Although their accumulation in humans and the environment is problematic, regulation of these "forever chemicals" is progressing slowly. The Water Management Administration is preparing for their monitoring in drinking water.

We carry them around with us, put our food in them or smear them on our faces. They are invisible and stay among us much longer than we would like. What is at stake? Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). First developed in the 1940s, manufacturers have been using these chemicals in more and more areas of life.

Jerry Hoffmann is head of the laboratory division of the Water Management Administration. As a chemist, Hoffmann can muster some enthusiasm for the PFASs developed in the States and their properties. "In terms of their structure, they are indeed interesting molecules", he says. They are carbon chains of varying lengths in which the hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms are partially (polyfluorinated) or completely (perfluorinated) replaced by fluorine atoms. This combination ensures that "PFAS not only repel water, but also oil, grease and dirt. That's what makes these substances so interesting for the industry", Hoffmann elaborates. Outdoor clothing, carpets, fire-fighting foam, coffee mugs, paper products or cosmetics: PFA chemicals can be found in all these things without consumers necessarily knowing it. The extremely heat-resistant substances are also found in space technology, electronics and medicine. But the former example of technological progress also has dark sides that are becoming increasingly visible today.

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