PFAS: WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

PFAS exposure is not just another crisis; it’s a ticking time bomb. The widespread industrial use of PFAS, thanks to its resilience and durability in numerous products, is a convenience to which we have become accustomed. Who doesn’t appreciate stain-resistant, nonstick, and water-repellent products? But this convenience comes at a high cost, a substantial and environmental cost. During the manufacturing process and use of these products, PFAS seep into the water and soil, posing long-term effects on the environment, including humans, fish, and wildlife worldwide.

What are PFAS?

PFAS, or Perfluoroalkyl (PFOA – Perflourooctanoic Acid) and polyfluoroalkyl (PFOS) substances, have been a part of our lives since the 1940s. These nearly 15,000 synthetic chemicals, also known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their inability to break down in the environment, have found their way into a wide range of industrial and consumer products.

PFOA and PFOS are “long chain” chemicals containing eight carbon atoms. Having been phased out, the EPA and FDA have allowed “short-chain” replacements containing six carbon atoms. While chemical companies have claimed that “short-chain” chemicals are safer, studies have shown that short-chains may pose a greater risk than long-chains.

How PFAS Effect Your Health

For decades, chemical manufacturers knew that PFAS chemicals were dangerous but consciously hid these facts from the public.

Rather than moving away from these fluorinated chemicals, in 2009, the industry introduced GenX chemicals (short chain) to PFOA. To be clear, GenX itself is the trade name for HFPO-DA, also known as C3 Dimer Acid, which is an acronym for the chemical compound hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid. https://www.chemours.com/en/about-chemours/genx

Chronic exposure to GenX chemicals has been found to induce tumors in rats and is linked to toxicity within the liver, kidneys, blood, and immune system. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/study-newer-pfasmay-pose-more-risks-those-they-replaced

Our immune systems frequently find and kill abnormal cells before they can turn into tumors. PFAS is thought to interfere with this process by binding to proteins in the body. This results in buildup in the blood and urine of people and animals, posing health risks.

In very low doses, PFAS has been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, endocrine issues, weakened immunity, and weight gain in adolescents and adults. Alarmingly, PFAS has also been detected in the blood of newborns. This concerning discovery emphasizes the urgent need to address and mitigate the widespread presence of PFAS in our environment.

https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/study-newer-pfasmay-pose-more-risks-those-they-replaced

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1385894719319096?fbclid=IwAR3zIeEDnluiG2QKSGTh4HN0Q-sIsBvr_WuZAeS6dkrIshQBWyWQ8JF-8gA

Exposure

From plastic wrap and baggies to dental floss and candy wrappers, just to name a few, the exposure to PFAS everywhere.

  • Ingesting food produced near where PFAS is used or manufactured
  • Water from contaminated wells or municipal sources
  • Consuming any food or drink that is packaged in material that contains PFAS
  • eating fish caught from PFAS-contaminated water
  • swallowing or breathing in any contaminated dust or soil
  • inadvertently swallowing residue or dust from consumer products containing PFAS, such as stain-resistant carpeting or water-repellent items and clothing.

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/PFAS-exposure-and-your-body.html

Before you fear the worst, there are ways you can minimize the risk to you and your family from PFAS.

What can you do to reduce your exposure?

To minimize your exposure to PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), consider the following measures:

  • Water: contaminated water is at the top of the list of PFAS exposure. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) has created an interactive map of contamination sites throughout the USA. Be aware that not all water supplies in the US have been tested. Remember that if your area has not been tested, you are at a higher risk of exposure if you are downstream from an airport, military base, fire station, or industrial manufacturing facility. My municipality sends out an annual water quality report. You can request one from your local water department if yours does not.
  • Invest in a water filtration system. For a complete list of filters certified for PFOA/PFOS removal, visit NSF.org or IAPMO.org.
  • Cookware: Avoid nonstick cookware and utensils in favor of aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel, or, my personal favorite, ceramic-coated cookware. (I have been using GreenPan for a few years now. It is the best cookware I have ever owned!) https://www.greenpan.us/pages/technology-information
  • Fast food: Reduce your consumption of microwave popcorn, fast food, and takeout. To repel grease, PFOA/PFOS is used in some food packaging, including fast-food containers, wrappers, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags.
  • Do not use personal hygiene, skincare, cosmetics, or cleaning products that list anything with “PTFE” or “perfluoro” in the ingredients.
  • Clothing: PFAS has been found in apparel and accessories. Opt for clothing made from natural fibers such as bamboo, organic cotton, wool, or hemp.
  • Avoid purchasing furniture and carpets treated with stain repellent, particularly if you have crawling babies or toddlers learning to walk. Hand-to-mouth transfer makes it very easy for them to ingest carpet fibers.
  • Change your air filters regularly.

EWG provides a list of companies that offer PFAS-free products. https://www.ewg.org/withoutintentionallyaddedpfaspfc

What to do?

Government regulation is urgently needed now; however, bureaucracy moves slowly. Taking your concerns to your local politicians can be helpful. If enough constituents voice their fears, especially during an election year, politicians are more likely to listen and take some action.

For more comprehensive information on PFAS, go to:

https://www.epa.gov/pfas

https://silentspring.org/project/everyday-exposures-pfas-chemicals?gad_source=1&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIpbnC0cbPhgMVfjytBh3ucgDQEAAYASAAEgI4u_D_BwE

https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2019_pfas_contamination_sludge

https://www.npr.org/2022/06/22/1106863211/the-dangers-of-forever-chemicals