Union of Concerned Scientists, December 2020
How a problem is framed often shapes the range of solutions considered. Ubiquitous global contamination by PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), human-synthesized chemicals that are water and grease repellent and found in human blood, drinking water, and wildlife, is a problem that has been framed in a number of ways. While environmental regulation is often framed as driven by scientific knowledge, our research finds that in U.S. the implementation of chemical regulation is more commonly driven by scientific ignorance and corporate malfeasance.
PFAS is a family of more than 6,000 compounds often referred to as “emerging contaminants,” which means that we require further study in order to adequately understand them—let alone regulate them. Yet, in truth we have decades of knowledge about PFAS, dating back to chemical manufacturers uncovering evidence of human health effects only revealed in litigation. Thus, the nature of how we experience ignorance varies greatly, depending on how one is positioned: chemical manufacturers who have discretion to disclose or withhold information, regulators who operate with limited access to data, and communities and consumers who experience total surprise when told PFAS are in their blood and drinking water.