How to avoid PFAS and why so many fear ‘forever chemicals’

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Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, collectively known as PFAS, consist of more than 12,000 man-made chemical compounds used in a wide range of everyday products. These include take-out containers, straws, outdoor clothing, medical equipment, food packaging, cosmetics and most products advertised as greaseless, waterproof, flame retardant or non-adhesive.

Although PFAS have been produced by manufacturers since the 1940s, they are known to be harmful to the environment and humans, leading to increased government oversight of their use – especially in and around municipal water sources.

Regardless of these improved regulations, the chemicals can often be at least partially avoided through conscientious consumer practices.

What are ‘forever’ chemicals?

PFAS are sometimes called “forever” chemicals because they have a carbon-fluorine bond – one of the strongest and most stable bonds in chemistry. “This binding means that these chemicals do not break down easily in the environment or in our bodies. That is why PFAS are known as ‘forever’ chemicals,” explains Lauren Petrick, Ph.D., an environmental medicine scientist and public health at the University of California. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

And because these chemicals were first used in industrial production more than eighty years ago, they have found their way into many food and water sources, contaminating some animals that humans eat, such as livestock that graze on PFAS-contaminated grasses or fish. swimming in PFAS-contaminated water.

“PFAS are now found in the air, water and soil, so you can be exposed to the chemicals in many different ways,” says Petrick.

More about this: What are PFAS? ‘Forever chemicals’ are common and dangerous.

Why are PFAS dangerous?

This is concerning because high levels of PFAS are known to be toxic to humans, and the perpetual nature of these chemicals means they can build up in our systems over time, leading to potentially concerning outcomes.

Some risk factors associated with PFAS exposure include “kidney cancer, high cholesterol, a lower immune response to childhood vaccination, and some pregnancy complications,” says Scott Bartell, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Irvine.

Research: Hundreds of drinking water systems more than meet the new PFAS standards. It can grow to thousands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that significant exposure to PFAS can also affect growth and development in some people and negatively impact thyroid and liver function.

DeLisa Fairweather, Ph,.D., vice chair of translational research for the Mayo Clinic’s division of cardiovascular medicine and a former toxicologist in the department of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University, also warns of an increased risk of obesity related to PFAS exposure and possible complications related to the regulation and distribution of hormones throughout the body.

How to Avoid PFAS

Although most people would like to avoid such problems, avoiding PFAS is not easy because they are present in many everyday products, including many food and water sources. In fact, research shows that PFAS are present in as much as 45% of the water supply in the United States, meaning PFAS is potentially flowing into the homes of millions of Americans.

This is why the first step toward avoiding PFAS, Petrick advises, should be installing or using a water purification system capable of filtering out the toxic chemicals.

It may also be wise to avoid beauty or cooking products advertised as waterproof, grease-free or non-stick if they are not specifically labeled as PFAS-free. “To limit exposure, I recommend using metal or glass containers to transport and prepare water and food,” advises Fairweather. She also recommends not drinking from plastic straws, using take-out food containers, “or purchasing carpet and soft furnishings that have been treated to become waterproof or to retard fire.”