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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Yale: Symposium on Toxic Chemicals Draws Scores of Experts

A class of manmade chemicals widely used in consumer goods since World War II — the toxicity of which is featured in the current movie “Dark Waters” — drew dozens of experts from across academia, government and industry to the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) to assess the threat posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS.

The daylong symposium on December 13 hosted by the school’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) outlined an enormous problem: people are exposed to PFAS chemicals in their everyday life but very little is known about their safety.

PFAS are widely used in consumer and industrial goods for their heat-resistance and oil- and water-repellent qualities. They are commonly found in cookware, clothing, fire suppressants, pizza boxes, carpeting and many other everyday products. As a result, PFAS are now pervasive in the environment and due to their engineering, they have long biological half-lives in humans, ranging from 3.8 to 7.3 years.

While there are more than 5,000 synthetic PFAS chemicals on the market and in use, only 18 have been investigated for safety. Of the studies conducted, PFAS have been shown to affect the liver, immune and endocrine systems, and childhood development. There is also evidence that the PFAS can cause a range of cancers, including the pancreas, testes and kidneys.

“Ninety-five percent of people have PFAS in their blood and we have no evidence that they are safe,” Dr. Vasilis Vasiliou, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology, chair of EHS and the organizer of the symposium, told the gathering in Winslow Auditorium. “PFAS is an emergency for every state, red or blue.”

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