Take a look around your house at the various products that make living easier. Have you ever been puzzled why food doesn’t stick to your favorite frying pan, fat doesn’t seep through your microwave popcorn bag, or water doesn’t soak through your jacket? All of these functions are most likely caused by the same class of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS. However, those chemicals are now being scrutinized, and in some areas, they are being phased out entirely.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of compounds. These fluorine-based compounds number in the thousands. They’ve been discovered in drinking water, dust, and even the human bloodstream, earning them the name “forever chemicals.” PFAS is probably present in your house and body. Health problems can be especially severe in areas of land where PFAS are disposed of or frequently used, as illustrated in the 2019 film Dark Waters. These compounds have been associated with health problems such as liver damage, kidney cancer, and birth defects, and can be found in a wide range of products, from food packaging to cosmetics and furnishings.

On the other hand, consumer pressure hasn’t been enough to cause a significant shift away from PFAS. After all, according to Jonatan Kleimark, a senior chemistry and business advisor at ChemSec, a Swedish non-profit group pushing for safer chemical use, understanding labels and the names of chemical compounds is practically impossible for the typical individual. “It’s a really complex subject for an ordinary consumer, and it’s something that’s usually not communicated around,” Dr. Kleimark explains.