Op-ed: A call for products free of toxic chemicals

A group of widely used toxic chemicals linked with several kinds of cancer, high cholesterol, and suppression of vaccine effectiveness in children is now also found in air and water around the globe and in nearly all of our bodies. And these chemicals never fully degrade.

Used in products ranging from clothing to carpets to nonstick cookware, these “Forever Chemicals” are characterized by a remarkably strong fluorine-carbon bond, which gives them useful properties like being stain repellent. And because there are many variants of these chemicals, when one is pulled from the market because of fears about toxicity, another with a slightly different chemical structure typically takes its place. Public health scientists call this phenomenon “regrettable substitution,” according to Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a January 2, 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post, Allen noted that businesses and universities—including Harvard—have started to ban use of Forever Chemicals. He hopes that the trend will continue. “Collectively, from all sectors, we need to send clear market signals that we all want products that adhere to green science principles, such as designing for degradation,” he wrote. “Because nothing should last forever, including our patience.”

Read the Washington Post article: These toxic chemicals are everywhere—even in your body. And they won’t ever go away.

Learn more

Harmful chemicals removed from products often replaced with something as bad or worse (Harvard Chan School news)