A recent study published in the Environment Science & Technology has connected the risk of ‘forever chemical’ exposure to be more prevalent in communities of color. This was found due to the result of disproportionate placement of pollution and waste sources near watersheds that provide for the surrounding communities. These ‘forever chemicals’ are a combination of both per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) commonly found in many industrial and consumer manufactured products, such as jet fuel, firefighter foam/ flame retardants, waterproof apparel, and nonstick pans. The study found that industrial sites such as–airports, military bases, wastewater treatment plants and landfills are more likely to be releasing these substances into the surrounding earth, waterways, and even atmosphere.
We have seen studies before that have shown the global spread and travel of these ‘forever chemicals’ to the poles, touching the native aquatic, land, and air organisms. Leaving about 330 species in some way contaminated, whether through skin absorption, osmosis, ingested food or water, or inhaled air. Now we are seeing these chemicals in the waterways used by humans. But from the knowledge scientists have already collected from previous studies, it’s safe to say these chemicals have been within these waterways for a subsequent amount of time, but are just now being detected—probably due to higher than normal accounts of illnesses and conditions.
The communities most affected by these atrocities are those marginalized, and the work of those at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, believe that socio-demographic groups are often stressed by the factors of marginalization, racism, and poverty. And these groups are more susceptible to adverse health outcomes and issues compared to other groups or populations.
Why is this? According to another study released by the EPA, the underlying cause is a difference in income led by systemic racism. Over time, they stated that BIPOC and sources of pollution have been pushed together. Within the study they found that white communities are exposed to lower than average amounts of pollution with a 60% overall exposure rate, compared to those of color that are at a greater than average rate of 75% overall exposure. The pollution sources ultimately lead to the leakage of these ‘forever chemicals’ hence continuing the cycle of contamination.
Going back to the first study conducted by Harvard researchers, they collected PFAS monitoring data from 7,873 community water systems across 18 states. Between January 2016 to August 2022, they analyzed 44,111 samples, concluding that there was a positive association between the number of PFAs sources and the proportions of BIPOC communities served by these water systems. Each additional industrial site, military base, and airport had a spike in found contaminants within the nearby watersheds with a 10 to 108%; and 20 to 24% increase of both PFAs.