Industry veteran Schmitt, whose company has worked with both material and technology suppliers to develop expertise in polymers, gave an interesting perspective on the dilemma for those involved with health care — both users and suppliers.
"One way to look at this is to say, 'Well, what are we going to do? Are we going to save the patient or are we going to save the planet?' " he asked. "Obviously what we are going to do as an industry is begin to work to do both."
The first PFAS question for health care, Schmitt said, focuses on an issue those in the sector are familiar with in everyday work. That is persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity, commonly known by the acronym PBT.
PFAS are difficult to break down, having a high persistence in the environment, and is found in human and animal blood globally today, he said.
As for bioaccumulation, there is concern that more PFAS is absorbed in the body than is eliminated, and there's an increasing concern on the buildup of PFAS in fish, wildlife and animals.
And the issue with toxicity is documented by a detection of changes in liver enzyme levels, along with changes that have been found in immune systems and vaccine response, changes in cholesterol levels and an increase in birth defects, he said. .
The second area of concern involves manufacturing, as PFAS is used in articles and components, as well as mixtures, additives and waste products. Schmitt added that the disposal and remediation of PFAS is another major concern.
There is a lot of uncertainty regarding PFAS and how the issues play out. The potential for bans, restrictions and regulations are all on the table, he said. And at least three large groups will play major roles in the outcome: government, regulatory bodies, and producers and end users.
And as the process moves forward, as PFAS is regulated or banned, there is a strong likelihood of the medical sector facing major supply chain disruptions — again.
"Issues on occupational health and safety, and manufacturing and process alterations — never fun, never easy to do — are also on the horizon," Schmitt said. "We have a challenging problem. The devil is in the details. And there's a risk of those details not being properly understood, and the wrong scale being used to make decisions."