Michigan. Minnesota. New Jersey. North Carolina. West Virginia. These are just some of the hotspots of water contamination caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. Linked to a number of cancers and other illnesses, PFAS chemicals have been used in everything from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant clothing and carpets. Until recently, the substances have gone largely unregulated, exposing millions of Americans to toxic contamination.
PFAS' carbon-fluorine bonds are some of the strongest in organic chemistry. They're so stable, in fact, that PFAS have been widely referred to as "forever chemicals" because of their indestructability, said Carl Cranor, a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside.
"These chemicals are going to be part of our environment long after people are dead," Cranor said. "They're incredibly stable, and they're are all over the world now; the only place they might not exist is high in the Himalayas in Nepal."
Cranor, whose research focuses on legal and moral philosophy, has spent decades studying PFAS and other …