Quirks & Quarks

A new class of 'forever chemicals' is an emerging threat to our health and environment

PFAS chemicals are in 98% of Canadians’ blood and could make COVID-19 infections worse

98% of Canadians have PFAS chemicals in their blood

PFAS chemicals are a class of forever chemicals used in firefighting foam and consumer products like non-stick cookware, waterproof textiles and cosmetics. (Ranck Fife/AFP via Getty Images/Sonya Buyting)

Originally published on October 10, 2020.

In part one of a three part radio documentary series, Quirks & Quarks producer Sonya Buyting looks at emerging concerns about a huge class of chemicals used in everything from fast food packaging, to textile treatments, to non-stick cookware, to firefighting foams.

These per and poly fluorinated alkyl substances, known as PFAS chemicals, don't easily break down in the environment, accumulate in both human and wildlife tissues, and have spread to almost every corner of our planet.

More and more, it's looking like PFAS chemicals may be having subtle, yet toxic effects on human health, increasing our risk of developing cancer, metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes and may even hamper our immune system making vaccines less effective and people more susceptible to COVID-19.

In part one of this series we hear from:

  • Linda Birnbaum, recently retired director of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program
  • Philippe Grandjean, from Harvard University and the University of Southern Denmark

In part two of the documentary series, we'll explore where these chemicals are in Canada and how they got here. 

And in part three, we'll look into what we know about how PFAS chemicals could be affecting our health and how we assess what's safe.

Produced and written by Sonya Buyting


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?