Consequences of creating ‘Forever Chemicals: PFAS’-Bangladesh should consider regulating the chemicals to protect human and the environment – Hossain M Azam

Consequences of creating ‘Forever Chemicals: PFAS’-Bangladesh should consider regulating the chemicals to protect human and the environment – Hossain M Azam

Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) want to raise concerns of another class of chemicals (PFAS) making major news and impacting major environmental regulations as well as water, wastewater and solid waste treatment practices all over the US and around the world. There are major consequences of the PFAS regulation on different industries and subsequent investment needed for change in practice. As limited information is known, BEN and BAPA urge DoE of Bangladesh and other regulatory agencies in Bangladesh to take major steps regulating these pollutants which are also very essential in different items of our daily life. No PFAS substances are regulated in Bangladesh. Bangladesh became a party to the Stockholm Convention in 2007 and the treaty added PFOS to its global restriction list in 2009. However, Bangladesh has not accepted the amendment listing this sub-stance and it is unregulated, along with other PFAS. 

According to US EPA, “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects”. The most-studied PFAS chemicals PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects and have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).

There is strong possibility that PFAS can be found in different products and environmental media/compartments (e.g. food, soil, water etc) of Bangladesh.  Limited information is available about PFAS in Bangladesh so the information presented here must be utilized with caution and might require further validation. Thus, it is necessary to conduct further investigation on the issue and to come up with a comprehensive documentation of the PFAS situation in Bangladesh. This will be important in taking remedial measures and further regulation. The limited information which is available via Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) reveals that there is no significant PFAS production in Bangladesh. However, import and use of PFAS and PFAS-containing products are likely to be the main source of PFAS pollutants. These are used mainly in manufacturing industries and are found in different industrial area like Dhaka city and the surrounding areas namely Gazipur, Norshindhi, Narayanganj and Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Khulna, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. 

The ESDO report further reveals that textiles products that are manufactured in Bangladesh and sold to Argentina contained 29.7µg/ kg ionic PFAS and 6967µg/kg volatile PFAS which exceeds EU PFAS regulatory limits by approximately 30-fold to 7000-fold for ionic and volatile PFAS respectively. There might be consequences of the PFAS compounds impacting our garments industry with major effects on Bangladesh’s economy. This report also discloses that about 93.55% of women in Bangladesh are suffering from the problems of kidney and asthma; and about 10% women are suffering from pregnancy related problems. PFOA, which is used in nonstick cookware, has been linked to pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia.

PFAS is typically found in a) food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water, b) Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs), c) workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery) that use PFAS, d) drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility), e) Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time. Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs but they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.

            On the other hand, the billion-dollar companies in the US that made and used chemicals now popping up in water supplies around the country are switching to newer alternatives, but they have major liabilities for historic environmental contamination. For some of the companies, including 3M Co. and the Chemours Co., liabilities from their PFAS operations have negatively affected the value of their stock. There are many responsible manufacturers of PFAS and might face severe challenges with PFAS litigation in the future. US EPA is struggling to regulate the PFAS compounds and its actions have been criticized by US senator. A Democratic senator is giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a dismal rating on its progress in regulating a class of cancer-linked chemicals a year after the agency unveiled a plan on PFAS. Recently, the democrat-controlled house passed a bill that would require the EPA to set a mandatory drinking water standard for PFAS, but the legislation could face an uphill battle in the Senate controlled by republicans. The water, wastewater and solid waste industry are facing major channleges in controlling PFAS exposure to human as several states started regulating them very aggressively. When US is going through such turmoil and challenges to control PFAS, Bangladesh government did not take any necessary action against the “forever chemical” PFAS. BEN through this article draws attention of DoE and relevant agencies of Bangladesh to take immediate actions on this chemical group and to take necessary preparation to limit effects on human and economic activities relevant to different industries. 

By Hossain M Azam, Ph.D., P.E., Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, University of the District of Columbia (USA), Washington, DC, USA E-mail:,



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