UMaine scientist: PFAS affects species of plants, animals differently

Apr. 24—POLAND — A scientist from the University of Maine tackled one of the more well publicized — but far less understood — issues facing many Mainers: forever chemicals.

Excelsior Grange hosted the PFAS discussion Friday, with more than a dozen in attendance.

Per- and polyfluorinated substances, commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” are a group of more than 4,000 man-made chemicals commonly found in nonstick and water-resistant surfaces on cookware, clothing, furniture, food packaging and more. “You name it,” said Richard Kersbergen, professor of sustainable dairy and forage systems at UMaine. “If it doesn’t stick, it’s probably got some PFAS in it, or had PFAS in it.”

Although its impact on human health is not yet fully understood, studies indicate PFAS can increase cholesterol levels, decrease the body’s vaccine response, prompt changes in liver enzymes, and elevate an individual’s risk of kidney or testicular cancer.

“They’re forever chemicals because they don’t break down,” he said. “They have a carbon-fluoride bond that’s incredibly strong. There’s lots of research going on as to how to actually destroy PFAS, and that’s the problem. We don’t have good ways to destroy it.”

Kersbergen has been working with the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand the “root pathway from soil to (feed) to cow, to milk, to child.”

Once the chemical is ingested, it can take a human anywhere from five to 60 years for half of the PFAS in their body to leave, depending on the amount present, Kersbergen said.

Research shows that PFOS, a subgroup of PFAS, has “declined dramatically” in human blood since 2000, when it was first tested for.

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