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Forever Chemicals: Environmental Hazard

Forever Chemicals fall under the category of highly persistent substances that don’t occur naturally, are hazardous, and hardly degenerate in the natural environment. We use these chemicals in our daily lives causing harm to ourselves, wildlife, and nature…
Forever Chemicals: PFAS and other toxic chemicals.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are known as Forever Chemicals. They consist of 10,000+ substances used in industries such as packaging and delivery, cookware, textiles, cosmetics, electronics, construction, and more.

These are highly persistent chemicals that don’t decompose, making complete disposal nearly impossible. PFAS leaves residue and particles that integrate with water and soil. These chemicals have been found in the blood of humans and wildlife all around the world, and are known to cause diseases like cancer and heart conditions, along with reproductive and immune system issues.

What are PFAS?

The first PFAS chemical, created in 1946, is Teflo which is used in manufacturing non-stick cookware. Since then, we have seen a rise in non-stick, stain-repellent, and waterproof materials, which will stay in the environment for thousands of years without degenerating or decomposing.

What makes PFAS so hazardous is the fact that we have been using and consuming these chemicals every day without knowing the harm.

Forever Chemicals in Construction

Forever Chemicals: PFAS in construction and building materials.

The construction industry relies on PFAS for several purposes, primarily due to their unique properties. One prevalent application is in the production of certain building materials. PFAS-based coatings and sealants provide surfaces with desirable characteristics such as water resistance, durability, and non-stick properties. These qualities make them useful in applications like waterproofing, stain protection, and fireproofing.

However, PFAS and their harmful aftereffects demand the need to look for non-chemical alternatives.

  • Surface treatments such as those applied to parking garages and bridges may incorporate PFAS like resin-based fluorocarbons, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and fluorinated acrylic polymers to repel water and resist corrosion. The alternatives to these fluorinated sealants are greased silicon, epoxy, polyester, phenolic, and acrylic, which can help reduce environmental damage while extending the structure’s lifespan.
  • PFAS-containing products find use in insulation materials as well, particularly in the form of foam insulation. While these materials offer excellent thermal properties, their pervasive presence raises concerns about potential indoor air quality issues and long-term environmental impact. Instead, construction and design companies can explore non-toxic insulation options including natural wool, cellular glass, cork, cementitious foams, and more.

The construction industry has been relying on PFAS building materials for more than a decade. From roofing, flooring, and building facades to paints, caulks, and adhesives, these toxic chemicals have been persistent, inadvertently causing health concerns in humans and harming the environment. It’s time we start promoting eco-friendly alternatives to reduce carbon footprint and save our ecosystem.

Forever Chemicals in Other Industries

Forever Chemicals: PFAS used in daily products and manufacturing industry.

PFAS is used in other industries such as packaging, cosmetics, textile manufacturing, furniture, electronics, and more. To elaborate, high fluorine levels are generally found in waterproof face products, stain-resistant furniture and carpets, cardboard wrappers for fast food and baked goods, flame-retardant gadgets, wirings, and more.

We use these products in our day-to-day lives and unknowingly absorb chemical residue left behind by PFAS. This leads to an increase in severe health issues.

Environmental and Health Concerns

Despite their utility, the environmental and health implications of PFAS are profound. These compounds have been detected in soil, water, and air samples worldwide, highlighting their widespread distribution. Concerns regarding their bioaccumulative nature and potential adverse health effects have prompted regulatory scrutiny and calls for stricter controls on their use.

In the construction industry, the risks associated with PFAS extend beyond environmental contamination to include occupational exposure. Workers involved in the application of PFAS-containing materials may face inhalation or dermal exposure, potentially leading to adverse health outcomes over time.

Also Read: Bangalore Water Crisis: What We Can Do

Regulatory Response and Industry Trends

In India, awareness of the environmental and health impacts of PFAS is growing, leading to initial steps by regulatory bodies like the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to address these challenges. Although specific PFAS regulations are still emerging, efforts are underway to create guidelines for their use and disposal. State pollution control boards and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are conducting studies to assess contamination levels, aiming to align with international standards and best practices.

In response to regulatory scrutiny and increased public awareness, the Indian construction industry is beginning to shift away from PFAS-based products. Key industry players such as architecture and landscaping firms are exploring eco-friendly alternatives and investing in research and development for non-toxic materials. This movement is supported by government incentives promoting green construction practices, with organizations like the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) advocating for safer, sustainable building materials.

Conclusion

The pervasive presence of “forever chemicals” in the construction industry underscores the need for proactive measures to address their environmental and health impacts. While Forever Chemicals offer valuable performance benefits, their persistence and potential risks necessitate a comprehensive approach to risk management and regulation. At Indeville Design Studio, we have been using eco-friendly and sustainable construction materials and methods to prioritize our customers’ well-being and reduce environmental damage. By embracing innovation and sustainability, our construction industry can mitigate its reliance on PFAS and adopt responsible practices for the welfare of society.

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