Are Forever Chemicals Really 'Forever'?: Save The Great South Bay WOW
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Are Forever Chemicals Really 'Forever'?: Save The Great South Bay WOW

Jul 04, 2023

GREAT SOUTH BAY, NY — You may have heard of "forever chemicals" as a recent buzzword.

But what exactly does it mean? Save the Great South Bay, a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of Long Island's Great South Bay, is here to set the record straight.

Forever chemicals, the non-profit's Word of the Week, is a range of synthetic substances (aka PFAS), used in many everyday products such as food packaging, nonstick products and household cleaning products, that are extremely persistent, lasting thousands of years in the environment.

Commonly found in our drinking water and local waterways, they are a threat to marine life as well as human health, with very small doses increasing the risk of a wide variety of health problems, such as cancer, liver problems, and immunosuppression.

Examples of forever chemical sources include:

On Dec. 31, 2022, New York banned the distribution and sale of food packaging containing intentionally added PFAS. But much more work needs to be done to protect our water quality in both our waterways and our drinking water, the non-profit said.

So, how can we avoid using forever chemicals?

The DEC recommends refraining from using specific take-out containers and items, and instead to use environmentally friendly alternatives. Multiple guides are available on its website here.

Grease-resistant fast-food packaging that keeps oil and meat juices from spilling on your clothes often also contain oil-resistant PFAS, according to The Washionton Post. This includes the paper wrappers, boxes and other containers used to serve burgers, fries and salads from fast-food chains.

Your risk of exposure to PFAS depends on the “contact time” — the time the food has spent inside of that plastic bag or paper wrapper, said Jamie DeWitt, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University.

Last year, Consumer Reports tested more than 100 food packages and reported higher levels of PFAS in wraps, trays and bags from Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Cava, among others.

Also, switching from packaged to fresh foods that don’t spend as much time on the shelf can reduce your risk of exposure.

Nonstick pots and pans are often coated in a material with PFAS. An alternative is switching to ceramic cookware, stainless steel or cast-iron pans.

To learn more about Save the Great South Bay and their efforts to prevent forever chemicals from affecting Long Island, visit its website here.

Maureen Mullarkey