Dr. Graham Peaslee of the Hope College faculty is among the co-authors of the “Madrid Statement,” an expression of concern signed by more than 200 scientists from 38 countries regarding a class of chemicals that appear in consumer products ranging from water-proof clothing and food packaging, to stain-resistant carpet, to non-stick pans.
The “Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)” has been published in the May 2015 issue of “Environmental Health Perspectives,” a peer-reviewed scientific journal, released on May 1. It calls “on the international community to cooperate in limiting the production and use of PFASs and in developing safer nonfluorinated alternatives.”
“These chemicals are getting everywhere, and we’re noticing them in people’s blood,” said Peaslee, who is the Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry and a professor of geology/environmental science at Hope. A 2003-04 study of people in the U.S. found the compounds in the blood of 98 percent of those tested. “These chemicals bioaccumulate and persist. They stay in your body, and the chemicals stay in the environment for hundreds of years.”
The “Madrid Statement” focuses on the entire general category of such compounds, including those known as “C8” (because they have eight carbon atoms) that have been around since the 1930s, and a newer group known as “C6” (because they have six carbon atoms) that Peaslee noted was developed as a safer alternative to the C8 group. As the statement says, “Although some of the long-chain PFASs are being regulated or phased out, the most common replacements are short-chain PFASs with similar structures, or compounds with fluorinated segments joined by ether linkages.”
According to Peaslee, researchers around the world continue to study the impact of the chemicals on animals and humans. He noted that a recent study has found probable links between exposure to C8 compounds and diseases such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.
Peaslee recognizes that the man-made compounds do offer many benefits. Given the results of the studies and their prevalence where they don’t belong, however, he would prefer to see more limited use.
“It’s very useful, but we should save it for the places where it’s most valuable,” he said. “If you go up Mount Everest, a water-proof jacket might be essential. If you go to the mall, do you really need the fluorochemical-treated jacket?”
A nuclear chemist, Peaslee has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1994. He has been studying the presence of per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in consumer products for the past two years. The Hope research group that he co-leads has developed a rapid screening test to identify the presence of PFCs, and he is part of a multi-disciplinary team at the college that recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant to explore demand for the test.
The “Madrid Statement’s” title reflects its origins during a professional gathering in Madrid, Spain, during the summer of 2014. In addition to Peaslee, who joined the team following the initial meeting, the statement’s 14 co-authors include scientists from universities and policy groups in California and Colorado as well as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The presentation in “Environmental Health Perspectives” includes not only the “Madrid Statement” and the list of signatories, but also an introductory editorial and a response by the Fluorocouncil, a chemical industry association.