And so are a whole bunch of other things we would be better off without.
Many people are familiar with a story about Julius Caesar’s last breath. The story is that there are twenty-five sextillion molecules in the Julius Caesar’s breath, in which he famously said “Et tu, Brute!” And this number is so great, compared to the number of breaths it would take to fill the atmosphere, that one or more of those molecules will probably be in any given breath you take.
Of course, most things do not last forever. Carbon dioxide is captured by plants to make things like cellulose to grow. The carbon is sequestered in the roots of plants, and when the plant dies, it decays into other compounds. Some of it is transformed to elemental carbon, and when we burn coal, we are using carbon trapped in this way long ago.
Most organic compounds decay over time, but some substances cannot be broken down over any practically useful period. If we make these, the amounts in existence will only increase. If we release them into the environment, they will only accumulate. If they are toxic, they can only make life increasingly difficult with passing time.
This is true even if the amount emitted at any time is very small. So, if there is a toxic substance on a fabric, normal wear of that fabric will get tiny amounts of it into the air, water, and soil. If there are a lot of pieces of the fabric in use, each will contribute to the accumulated amount.
PFAS are such substances. They have a number of uses, ranging from manufacture of other chemicals to textiles and floor wax. But every product that has them is a constant source of emissions. Each article with them emits its own “Et tu, Brute,” breath every moment it is used, putting out molecules that get into each of us.
The result is that nearly a third of Americans already drink water with PFAS in it. Very possibly, all of us in this country have them in our bodies. They are “forever molecules” that don’t go away.
The problem is not just that PFAS are toxic. It is that as long as we use them, the toxic accumulation will increase, making the toxicity worse. Acting to stop using them will be necessary. It is just a matter of how long we wait, and how much damage is done, before we act.
The Sierra Club recently sent out an appeal to all of us to get in touch with those who represent us in Congress, letting them know we want them to act on PFAS. You can see this short appeal, and add your name to a petition, by visiting http://bit.ly/say-no-to-PFAS.
We might add, however, that the issue goes far beyond PFAS. We at Green Energy Times believe that substances that “are forever” should not be used without passing significant review examining what their long-term effects might be.