What makes PFAS chemicals extremely useful — and extremely hard to get rid of — are bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms that are almost impossible to break.
Toxic “Forever Chemicals” Found in Americans' Blood
Published: August 4, 2021
Fred Stone: Why in God's green earth would you want to sell something that you know is contaminated?
I had one person, honest to God, told me. Well, you know, Freddy, you screwed up. All you had to do is keep your mouth shut.
But There is no safe level of contamination.
Narrator: Fred Stone's dairy farm is contaminated with PFAS, chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.
Stone: As the cows ingest the feed and they drink the water, it gets into the cows themselves and it translates into the milk.
Narrator: The presence of these chemicals in the milk caused Stone to lose his dairy license, leaving his third-generation family business in ruins.
Stone: I really don't know how we're going to proceed out of this this disaster. We should be thinking about how we're going to retire and how we're going to move on. Now we're trying to figure out how the hell we're going to stay alive.
Narrator: PFAS aren’t federally regulated and they’re virtually everywhere — used for their non-stick, water resistant qualities in stain resistant carpet, waterproof clothing, food wrappings, cookware and even makeup. More than 98% of americans have some amount of PFAS in their blood or tissue
Jessica Ray: PFAS stands for per and pol substances and these are synthetic organic compounds so they are man-made and they originated around the 1930s.’ Studies have shown that they are very acutely toxic.
Linda Birnbaum: PFAS are a problem and they are a problem because they are useful chemicals so that they do something that we like. The more we study them, the more we see adverse health impacts
Narrator: Two of the most widely-studied PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS have been linked to a slew of health problems like kidney and testicular cancers. And there’s evidence that suggests PFAS can have an effect on the immune system leading some experts to worry about vaccine effectiveness.
Philippe Grandjean: Because the PFAS compounds can interfere with the immune system and essentially prevent the production of antibodies, insufficient concentrations and so that we can't respond to infectious disease.
PFAS can remain in the body for many years and scientists don’t fully understand why that is, but we know they bind to certain proteins in our bodies.
Jaime Dewitt: Which means that they can move around, they can go from organ to organ, they can hang out in our blood. They could go to other tissues. And for that reason, we think that's why they stick around in our bodies. There also are some hypotheses that when PFAS get to the kidney to be excreted, the kidney doesn't get rid of them, it just transports them back into our bodies.
Narrator: The reason PFAS don’t degrade in our bodies or the environment has to do with their chemistry
Chris Higgins: So the carbon fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds known in chemistry. And when we make these artificially and we released them to the environment, we have to expect that those bonds are not going to degrade relatively easily at all.
Narrator: When PFAS contaminate the natural resources that communities depend on, the result can be disastrous.
That’s what happened in the city of Newburgh, in New York, where runoff from a nearby military base containing PFOA from firefighting foam made its way into Washington Lake, contaminating the drinking water of nearly 30,000 people.
Torrance Harvey: One of our greatest assets in the city of Newburgh has been contaminated, undue to any fault of our own. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me emotional because it's not fair.
Since the contamination came to light in 2016, the federal and state governments have spent years trying to remediate the lake.
Wayne Vradenburgh: There’s 18 forty-thousand-pound vessels of carbon, granular-activated carbon.
Narrator: Activated carbon treatment is a method of filtering PFAS out of water. the chemicals stick to the porous carbon as the water passes through. But removing the PFAS from the drinking water, still leaves them intact.
Dewitt: when you filter PFAS out of water, you're just taking it from here and putting it here where it's either going to be incinerated or landfilled or filtered out and put somewhere else. So that's the problem with PFAS. They just get moved around. They don't get eliminated, at least with the technologies that we have right now.
Higgins: Unless we do something to intervene. They'll be present for for decades, if not hundreds or thousands of years to come.
Stone: My wife and I actually met showing cows together. And it was all well and good when I was beating her. But when she started beating me, that's when we had to get married. So that's what I tell people.
I grew up here and it's it's it means everything to my wife and I know the cows, the farm on the whole, the whole nine yards.
Narrator: For more than 20 years, starting in the 1980s’, the Stones fertilized their fields with nutrient-rich byproducts provided to them at first from a paper company, and later from a municipal wastewater facility.
Stone: And we did everything by the book. And we have the letters to prove it.
Narrator: But in 2016, testing revealed the problem.
Stone: They found that the fields are contaminated with the PFOA and PFOA. And it was their determination that it came from the sludge spreading that we had done from eighty three.
We put in a a water filtration system, we were trying to salvage dairy operation. We ended up slaughtering about two thirds of the herd. There's about 40 or so left. And these are all cow families that, again, go way back, you know, 40 or 50 years. These are cows I just can't kill. I'm sorry. I just can't kill them. We just we have them here. I don't know what the hell we're going to do with them
Narrator: PFAS Are pervasive on the Stone farm — elevated PFAS levels have been found in members of Stone’s family too. Stone’s own blood contains PFAS levels 20 times higher than the national average.
Stone: Those cows, all they want us to do is take care of them. And, but I feel we failed them.
Produced by: Emily Zendt
Additional Camera: Alex Clark
Production Assistance: Shantal Riley, Christina Monnen, Amaris Pleas Buford
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