Harmful chemicals/social & global sins – one man’s reflection.

The first section of this post is a Guardian article, which informs us of water contamination in the US. If this is the case, this is likely to be replicated in other countries. The second part is from a Christian colleague in the US and his reflection on how the church might respond to such challenges.

“US drinking water contamination with ‘forever chemicals’ far worse than scientists thought”

     PFAS, resistant to breaking down in the environment, have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight & other health problems.  The contamination of US      drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia & New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group. The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS (containing fluoride.)  Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight & other health problems. The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

     “It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG & co-author of the report.The chemicals were used in products like Teflon & Scotchguard & in firefighting foam.  Some are used in a variety of other products & industrial processes, & their replacements also pose risks. Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states & Washington DC, only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700ft (215m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS.  Only Seattle & Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends. EWG found that on average 6 to 7 PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, & the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.  

     In 34 places EWG’s tests found PFAS contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies.  The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on 2 of the chemicals, PFOA & PFOS.    The EPA said it has helped states & communities address PFAS & that it is working to put limits on the 2 main chemicals but did not give a timeline. In 2018 a draft report from an office of US Department of Health & Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House &  EPA had tried to stop the report being published.………………………………….


Thank you, Christina, for sharing this important alert about the danger of perflouroalkys (PFAS) chemicals in American drinking water. This is genuinely an important issue as it affects every parish in America.

Chemicals such as these PFAS are so lethally toxic that they should be banned forever. If one part per trillion in drinking water is carcinogenic, there is no capability to contain or restrain the toxicity, either now or over centuries of time. See an independent report: https://draxe.com/health/pfas-contamination/Chemists tell us that the flood of toxic substances in the food chain will in slow motion and over decades produce a mortality equal to nuclear war. Nobel Prize winning physician Eric Chivian MD issues the following statement (from his book CRITICAL CONDITION: Human Health and the Environment, p. 9):

“We know that the world (and human civilization) cannot survive nuclear war….

“The world now faces a similar threat to human health and survival from changes to the global environment – stratospheric ozone depletion, habitat destruction, species extinction, global warming, and the poisoning of air, water, and soil by toxic and radioactive substances. And there is a similar lack of understanding about the consequences of these environmental dangers for human beings.” 

The issue for the Orthodox Church is that science and religion should discern similar sets of issues. In the Church we promote the “March for Life” this coming Saturday over the issue of abortion. Yes, that is a genuine pro-life issue, but far more serious are the lethal dangers from nuclear war, global climate change, toxic chemicals in drinking water and the food chain, and the long term consequences of nuclear wastes. The causes for these issues should also be protested. The irony is that alongside the highly personal and emotional issue of abortion, we give far less attention to these more deadly global issues that exert much more impact on the life of the world.

Somehow when we examine these issues from the perspective of sin and repentance, we should distinguish between personal sins and what might be called social sins (sins in the structure of society) and even larger global or planetary sins. We don’t discuss these different levels or types of sin mostly because our taxonomy of sin is deficient. Yet these distinctions exist and to meet the challenge of the modern world our theology should differentiate between personal sins, social sins (sins embedded in the structure of society – think of air pollution), and what might be called global sins, which in terms of pain and suffering, impact huge sectors of life on earth.

Part of the problem is that we still see the world with a 19th century mentality in which all issues are personal, but in fact we are living amidst 21st century technology in which communication is instantaneous, travel is intercontinental, and our view of the world increasingly global. The principles of the Church may be stable and timeless, but how we translate those principles into modern conditions is where we have an urgent need to catch up. If we fail to engage these issues, then we have little ability to critique the media, modern medicine, genetic engineering designed to avoid diseases, new genres of music, the many issues of food and water, the symphonia that should exist with government, and a dozen other issues. If we fail to critique the world of the present, we will also fail to live with integrity “…on earth as it is in heaven” in the present. And if we can’t do that, then we cannot provide adequate direction on how to obey God and live with reverence amidst present world conditions. 

Think back to the problem of the deadly consequences of PFAS chemicals. This article reports that the EPA’s assessment that “110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.” Cancers are already at epidemic levels. (The American Cancer Society estimates 60% to 90% of all cancers are due to toxics in the food chain and the environment.) We need to provide direction on how to avoid these dangerous chemicals as without that far more parish members are in danger of avoidable disease and sometimes premature death. 

PFAS are just one chemical on a growing list of dangerous substances. To avoid PFAS, avoid at least non-stick cookware, like teflon; instead use old-fashioned iron frying pans. Avoid fast foods and fast food wrappers; avoid stain resistant carpets and furniture polish; avoid outdoor foul weather gear with Gore-tex or scotchgard or some of the other “durable water repellent” coating. Sorry to suggest avoiding these so-called “convenient” products, but this inconvenience is preferable to the larger inconvenience of the sickness which they sometimes trigger.