Have you ever wondered why your favorite frying pan doesn’t stick, fat doesn’t leak through your microwave popcorn bag, or water doesn’t soak through your jacket? The same family of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS is most likely to blame for all of these functions. Those compounds, however, are now being investigated, and in some cases, they are being phased out completely.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a broad class of chemicals. There are thousands of these fluorine-based chemicals, and they’ve been found in everything from drinking water to dust to human blood, earning them the name “forever chemicals.” PFAS is almost certainly found in your home and body. As depicted in the 2019 film Dark Waters, health concerns can be particularly severe in areas of land where PFAS are disposed of or used often. These chemicals have been linked to health issues like liver damage, kidney cancer, and birth defects, and they can be found in everything from food packaging to cosmetics and furniture.

According to Jonatan Kleimark, a senior chemistry and business advisor at ChemSec, a Swedish non-profit organization advocating for safer chemical use, deciphering chemical compound labels and names is almost hard for the average person. “It’s a complicated subject for the average customer, and it’s something that’s rarely discussed,” Dr. Kleimark continues.