PFAS In A Pandemic: How Minorities Face Higher Risk Of COVID-19 And Chemical Exposure

It’s when things get tough that we wish would have done more before the cascade of bad news, bad luck, and bad leadership bury us. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a litany of offenses that have left millions of Americans at a higher risk of contracting and succumbing to the virus.

PFAS is on that long, long list.

If we’ve learned anything in the past eleven months, it’s that when catastrophe strikes, it doesn’t hit evenly. Time and time again, we’ve seen that the most vulnerable and most forgotten in normal times are also those who suffer the greatest when medical, social, and economic factors shift. Minority communities have been disproportionately affected by unemployment and have faced much higher fatality rates when they do contract COVID-19 itself. We’ve left these communities exposed through reduced access to health care and preventive care in particular, and the fruits of those evil seeds are now bearing poisoned fruit.

And now, PFAS appear to be playing a part in the pandemic, too. These ‘forever chemicals’ have been contaminating water supplies, cooking utensils, food packaging, and a wide array of household items for decades. The risks of these chemicals were hidden by companies like DuPont and 3M, but they continue to be in widespread use due to a lack of regulation from organizations like the FDA. Toothless legislation, such as ridiculously high levels of ‘safe’ particle per trillion, have let this pollution continue.

PFAS are so prevalent that they are found in the bloodstream of most Americans today. As you may have guessed, minority communities are also statistically more likely to live near contamination sites and to have higher levels of PFAS in their bodies. While there is still more research needed to determine just how much of a correlation PFAS has with COVID-19 outcomes, there’s ample evidence that these chemicals can devastate the immune system and our body’s natural response to infection.

The CDC acknowledged back in June that there may be such a connection between PFAS contamination and PFAS, though they were non-committal about investigating further.

Previous research has also shown that PFAS may even affect the efficacy of a vaccine. With Americans desperate for a viable vaccine in the coming months, it’s still too early to tell just how effective any inoculation might be if the patient has elevated PFAS levels. As the world debates what communities should have first access to a vaccine, lower-income and minorities may not receive the same benefits as other demographics.

If we truly reap what we sow, then we’re seeing the results of decades of putting money ahead of people. Whether it’s denying access to care or covering up the poisoning of generations of our citizens, the burden falls again on those less fortunate to live, or die, with the consequences.

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