PFAS – Forever chemicals

BY MSc. Bára Haliková

Do you need a pause from reading and would rather have a recommendation for a saturday movie evening? We have got you covered. The movie Dark Waters is an environmental thriller and is based on a real life story exposing the dangers of chemicals called PFAS.

What is it about PFAS that made it into a movie star?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS for short, are a group of toxic chemicals with a great polluting factor and are found in many products. They are also known as FOREVER CHEMICALS, due to the fact that they are extremely persistent and effectively impossible to remove from the environment. And their group is not small, there are more than 9000 of them and the numbers are growing [1].

Even if you would be extremely careful about the products you are using, you would not be able to avoid them. In fact, I can tell you with 99% certainty that there are some PFAS already in your blood. How can I be so certain?

In the 1970s, chemical company 3M was on a search for people that did not have PFAS in their blood. They tested adults, children, babies, and went all around the world, still, they were not able to find a living human without PFAS in their blood [2].

The truth is that most of the population is already contaminated with these substances and newborns are found to already have PFAS in their bodies!.

And since they are persistent, our body will never get rid of them. On the contrary, they also bioaccumulate, meaning that over time they will become more rather than less. Don’t you think these are reasons enough for these chemicals to be completely banned?

These substances have been detected in the air, water and soil, often far from where they have been emitted. PFAS have been found even in Antarctica, in the most remote and untouched region of the world. When it comes to consumer products that contain PFAS, there is a wide variety to look out for.

These items include food packaging, clothes that are waterproof or stain-free, non-stick pans and a range of cosmetics especially if water resistant or long lasting. In cosmetic products, research from a Swedish Chemicals Agency shows that most often PFAS are found specifically in decorative cosmetics, followed by Skin care and Hair care [3].

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The movie Dark Waters is based in the USA but in Europe you will unfortunately find also several examples. In Germany, the water in town Altötting has been contaminated with PFAS, now, the residents are not allowed to give blood donations and are being observed for health effects of PFAS [4].

In Sweden, people in the town of Kallinge have been unknowingly drinking water contaminated with PFAS for decades. They sued the water company for damages and won the lawsuit [5]. And imagine how many more cases like this there are but nobody knows about them yet.

Luckily, The EU is stepping up with consumer protection and PFAS forever chemicals are also included in the newly announced Restrictions Roadmap where “Thousands of the most notorious chemicals will be rapidly banned in Europe” [6].

Together with around 2,000 harmful chemicals found in baby diapers, pacifiers and childcare products, PFAS will be restricted in products and all flame retardants, all bisphenols and all forms of PVC will be banned [6].

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What is it
  • PFAS, short for Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances
  • PFAS do not break down and accumulate in the environment and human body over time
Where can we find it
  • Most often in Waterproof mascara and long-lasting lipsticks
  • Also in liquid foundation, concealer, blush and other make-up products
Health effect
  • Most are considered moderately to highly toxic, particularly for children’s development
  • Increased risk of thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer
Effect environment
  • Extremely persistent and effectively impossible to remove from the environment
  • Accumulate and travel far distances
  • Have already been found even in Antarctica

GS tip: PFAS are especially toxic for us and the environment. Avoiding long lasting and water resistant cosmetics is essential, however, ultimately PFAS need to be banned all around the world and they will hopefully be banned soon in the EU.


  • MSc. Bára Haliková

    Completed her master studies in environmental management and waste management at GCU in Glasgow. Currently, she works for the organisation CEEV Živica on project GreenGate, whose main goal is to educate the public about dangerous substances in cosmetics. She currently lives with her partner and daughter in the countryside of Slovakia, in a small mobile home, which they built themselves.

1 Comment

  1. Petr

    This should be taught in school


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