Expert Alert

Forever Chemicals

Image of a nonstick pan, and headshot of Professor Matt Simcik
Professor Matt Simcik. Credit: Getty Images and University of Minnesota.

“Forever chemicals” have been detected across the state of Minnesota.  Known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), these synthetic materials are found in many common products, from cookware to carpet to cosmetics and more — and have been found in some of the state’s drinking water and even in the bloodstreams of people and wildlife. 

Now, the federal government, companies, and elected officials in Minnesota are taking steps to address PFAS’ impact on our environment. The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new standards for drinking water that would force water utilities to limit levels of PFAS. 3M, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of them, has pledged to stop production of these “forever chemicals” by 2025. At the legislature, bills to ban PFAS in household goods and to require stricter reporting of products that contain them are advancing in the House and Senate. 

University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) Professor Matt Simcik provides expert comment on “forever chemicals” and various efforts to address the harm they can cause to people and the environment. 

Matt Simcik
“The reason PFAS are called forever chemicals is because the carbon-fluorine bond is the strongest covalent bond we know. This makes them great for their intended use, but unfortunately not good for the environment. Another challenge with PFAS is their widespread use in a broad range of consumer and industrial products. Once used, the PFAS from these products enter our waste stream and ultimately get released back out into the environment.” 

“Luckily, our waste stream often flows through our landfills and wastewater treatment facilities. It is at these points that we can try and remove PFAS from the environment and prevent them from affecting human and ecosystem health.”

Simcik’s research focuses on pollutants: where they come from, where they end up, and how they get there. He is particularly focused on the Great Lakes region. For more than 20 years, he has researched the impacts of PFAS. Check out this short video focused on Simcik’s work. 

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