IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


13th March, 2024 Science and Technology


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  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," pose significant health risks due to their persistence and widespread use in various consumer products.
  • In response to the pressing need for efficient detection methods, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemists have engineered a groundbreaking sensor capable of detecting trace amounts of PFAS in drinking water.


Significance of PFAS Detection

  • PFAS are highly stable chemicals commonly found in food packaging, nonstick cookware, and other consumer products.
  • Their persistence in the environment poses severe health risks, including cancer, reproductive problems, and immune system disruption.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established advisory health limits for certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

Development of the Sensor

  • MIT researchers have designed a sensor based on lateral flow technology, similar to rapid COVID-19 tests.
  • The sensor employs a special polymer called polyaniline, which undergoes a change in conductivity when exposed to PFAS.
  • PFAS in a water sample trigger a reaction with the polyaniline, altering its electrical resistance.
  • This change in resistance is measured using electrodes and can be quantitatively assessed using external devices like smartphones.

About the chemicals

  • Forever chemicals, scientifically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), represent a class of synthetic chemicals with unique properties and widespread applications.
  • The term "forever chemicals" stems from their resistance to degradation, leading to their persistence in the environment and potential accumulation in living organisms.
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widely used in consumer products, including cosmetics, due to their water- and grease-resistant properties.
  • Recently, some countries have taken significant steps to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics due to their persistence in the environment and associated health risks.

Characteristics of PFAS:

  • PFAS constitute a class of 14,000 chemicals used in consumer products for imparting water resistance.
  • Their persistence in the environment raises alarms about long-term contamination of soil, water, and air.

Chemical Structure:

  • PFAS compounds consist of carbon-fluorine bonds, imparting exceptional stability and resistance to degradation.
  • Variability in chain length and functional groups contribute to diverse properties and applications.

Common Uses:

  • Firefighting foams (AFFF)
  • Non-stick coatings (e.g., Teflon)
  • Water and oil repellents (e.g., Scotchgard)
  • Food packaging materials
  • Textiles and carpets
  • Semiconductor manufacturing

Health Risks Associated with PFAS Exposure:

  • Cancer Risk: Evidence suggests an association between PFAS exposure and increased risks of certain cancers, such as kidney and testicular cancer.
  • Liver Damage: High levels of PFAS have been linked to liver damage and disturbances in liver functionality.
  • Thyroid Disruption: Certain PFAS compounds are associated with disruptions in thyroid hormone levels, affecting metabolism and growth.
  • Impact on Lipid Profile: PFAS exposure may lead to changes in lipid metabolism, potentially increasing cardiovascular risks.
  • Neurodevelopmental Effects: Emerging research suggests adverse effects on neurodevelopment, particularly concerning cognitive deficits and behavioral issues in children.

New Zealand's Ban on PFAS in Cosmetics:

  • New Zealand announced a ban on PFAS or forever chemicals in cosmetics starting from December 31, 2026.
  • The Environmental Protection Authority highlighted concerns about the non-degradability of PFAS in the body and the environment, linking them to various health issues including cancers and hormonal disruptions.
  • The ban requires the cosmetics industry to phase out the use of PFAS by the specified deadline.

Regulatory Landscape:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Establishing health advisory levels and regulations for drinking water contamination.
  • Stockholm Convention: PFAS listed as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), aiming for global regulation and reduction.
  • European Chemicals Agency (ECHA): Assessing risks and restricting PFAS use in the European Union.

Emerging Solutions:

Remediation Technologies

  • Activated carbon filtration
  • Advanced oxidation processes
  • Phytoremediation
  • Bioremediation

Alternative Chemicals and Materials

  • Short-chain PFAS substitutes
  • Green chemistry approaches
  • Designing products for durability and recyclability

Policy and Advocacy

  • Advocating for stricter regulations and pollution prevention measures.
  • Encouraging industry-wide collaboration and transparency.
  • Supporting research on PFAS fate, transport, and health impacts.


Q.  Forever chemicals pose significant environmental and health challenges due to their persistence and widespread use. Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts. Discuss. (250 Words)