PFAS chemicals (also known as “forever chemicals”) are becoming big news in the United States because of the negative health effects they have on people and the environment.
Many sources, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), believe that PFAS exposure is causing health risks from birth defects in children to cancer in adults.
Surprisingly, almost everyone has been exposed to PFAS chemicals and needs to understand the problems they pose to human health.
Table of Contents
- What is PFAS?
- How Does PFAS Contaminate Water?
- How Can You Be Exposed to PFAS?
- How to Reduce PFAS Contamination
What is PFAS?
PFAS is the common term for a group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are manmade chemicals.
These chemicals are known for their excellent property to repel water, oil and stains and are widely used in various fields and industries.
What are the Common PFAS Chemicals?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the three most common PFAS chemicals are:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is often used for chemical processes as an industrial surfactant and commonly known as C8.
PFOS are common for manufacturers within the leather, paper, carpet and fabric industries.
GenX is considered to be a newer and improved version of the PFAS.
However, around 3,000 other PFAS chemicals exist and are used in a variety of applications.
How are PFAS Used?
Due to their repelling properties, industries use both PFOA and PFOS chemicals as well as GenX on numerous consumer products.
PFOA and PFOS substances not only repel water, oil and stains, but these chemicals are also used in food packaging because they help food products stay fresh for longer.
PFAS are also used in firefighting foam. Fire stations and military bases are a common source of PFAS environmental contamination because of leaked firefighting foams.
These chemicals are persistent and resist natural degradation, so they accumulate in the environment and in your body over time. Thus the name, “forever chemicals.”
What Products Contain PFAS?
There are many common products that contain PFAS chemicals…
Some of the most popular are:
- waterproof clothing and mattresses
- waxes and polishes
- most cleaning products
How Does PFAS Contaminate Water?
The major causes of PFAS water contamination are the sites of chemical manufacturers.
Government studies from groups such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) show that the area around PFAS production facilities have dangerously high PFAS levels, including the local water sources.
When people wash products containing PFAS, the water going down the drain carries PFAS contamination back into the water supply.
Firefighting foam (as mentioned above) is easily washed back into the water supply from the site where it was used.
Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that many drinking water systems now have PFAS contamination, even if they are not near a big source of the chemicals.
How Can You Be Exposed to PFAS?
The most common exposure of PFAS to your body is through food and drinking water.
Evidence shows that more than 98% of the people in the United States (including children) already have detectable levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood.
The use of cookware with PFAS coatings also leads to ongoing exposure to these substances.
When pregnant women drink water or eat food with PFAS, the developing child is at risk of exposure to PFAS. Even breast milk is a known source of PFAS exposure.
Children who often touch and taste everything around them are at risk of exposure through carpets, clothes and toys that might contain PFAS chemicals.
Consumption of produce and meat that are contaminated with PFAS is another way of being exposed to these chemicals.
Some data suggests that inhalation and skin absorption are also possible.
What are the Health Effects of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances?
Exposure to PFOS and PFOA causes many health concerns, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Studies show that infant birth weights can be affected. The birth weight might not be normal due to the exposure of PFAS in the womb. The mother may also suffer from pre eclampsia, a dangerous high blood pressure condition.
According to disease control and prevention agencies, the probable health effects of human exposure to PFAS include:
- high LDL cholesterol levels
- ulcerative colitis
- thyroid disease
- pregnancy-induced hypertension
- liver damage
- low infant birth weights
- developmental delays in children
If blood tests show traces of PFAS inside your body, you do not have to be overly alarmed. As long as the amount is within the minimum level, it should not affect your health.
What are the Effects of PFAS in the Environment?
Unlike humans, plants and animals cannot filter out the chemicals they consume, since they rely on surface water to drink. This means that they can absorb dangerous chemicals without being aware of the potential risk.
Once the PFAS inside the plants and animals reach dangerous levels, it could lead to birth abnormalities or even death.
How to Reduce PFAS Contamination
The best way to minimize PFAS exposure is to avoid the use of products that contain PFOA and PFOS chemicals labeled by the FDA and to be aware of the possible sources in your environment.
You also need to properly wash ingredients wrapped in food packaging as studies show that food will retain these and other dangerous substances on their surfaces.
You should also check your tap water to see if it meets the drinking water standards for safe levels of PFAS. Government websites will have this information for your area.
What Can I Do to Minimize the Effects of PFAS?
The first step you can do to minimize the effects of PFAS is to gather information and read content from sites such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.
You can learn more about polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the carbon fluorine bond that makes these “forever chemicals” persistent in the environment, and the possible health outcomes due to the toxicity associated with these chemicals.
You also read information about environmental health perspectives in the use of food packaging and firefighting foam since these are used in every community.
Go to sites where information about levels of toxicity is in question by the people studying environment issues. They often post the results of studies on laboratory animals showing high levels of contamination.
What the United States Government is Doing About PFAS?
Due to the persistence of Environmental Protection Agency, along with the evidence from animal studies, phase outs of polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS have been ordered by the government.
The EPA currently imposes a limit of 0.07 parts per billion PFAS exposure in drinking water.
Unfortunately, many water supplies still have levels far above this limit!
Know Your Water Source
Do not assume the information posted on all online sites regarding the standard of your water is always correct. Research your local government’s website and see if you can check the quality of water in terms of PFAS content.
You can rely on private laboratories to guarantee the authenticity of the result for water testing. So getting your own water test is the best way to be sure.
Make Sure Your Water is PFAS-Free
Even if your local water provider passes the official testing for PFAS, it’s up to you to guarantee that you have PFAS-free water inside your home.
You can use water filters such as a reverse osmosis filtration system to remove most contaminants in the water including PFAS. Reverse osmosis (RO) is considered the best filtration method to remove PFAS chemicals at this time.
To be sure, a specific test that measures PFAS would be required to diagnose your water. A simple TDS test (which is common to measure Total Dissolved Solids) does not measure for PFAS type contamination.
To protect yourself and your family, it is critical to make sure your tap water system free from PFAS, especially if you are using that water for drinking and cooking.
Inform Everyone About PFAS
We cannot fight the battle against PFAS alone. Help raise awareness about the effects of PFAS to our health and the environment.
Share your knowledge and spread awareness in your community with content like this, warnings from your local water authority, and encourage others to filter their water.