Facts you might not know about PFAS Chemicals in food and how they can affect your health
A study from 2007 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that PFAS chemicals could be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population. With that being said, it is important that we understand what PFAS are, how they affect our bodies, and how we can reduce our intake.
Below, you will learn more about these chemicals. You will better understand why professionals are trying to reduce our intake as much as possible.
What are pfas chemicals?
According to the EPA, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals.
A variety of industries, including those in the United States, have manufactured and used PFAS products since the 1940s. The most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals are PFOA and PFOS. As a result of their persistence in the environment and human bodies, these chemicals accumulate over time. Health effects associated with PFAS exposure are possible.
Due to several phase-outs, including The PFOA Stewardship Program, which involves eight major chemical companies, PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States. There are still international manufacturers that produce PFOA and PFOS.
They are found in:
- Food packaged in PFAS: made with PFAS-containing materials, processed with PFAS-contaminated equipment, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
- Items for household use: Stain- and water-repellent textiles, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products. Groundwater can be contaminated by firefighting foams (commonly used at airports and military bases for training).
- The workplace: such as PFAS production facilities or industries.
- Drinking water: it is usually local and sourced from a specific facility (such as a factory, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, or firefighter training center).
- Living organisms: These compounds can build up and persist within living organisms, such as fish, animals, and humans.
What Do Professionals Have To Say About PFAS?
Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s senior strategic director of health and food, says PFAS is dangerous for three reasons. “First, the structure of PFAS means they resist breakdown in the environment and in our bodies. Second, PFAS move relatively quickly through the environment, making their contamination hard to contain. Third, for some PFAS, even extremely low levels of exposure can negatively impact our health.”
It can take years before PFAS are flushed from the body through the water we drink, our food, and the products we use every day. “For years, bad-actor PFAS were used in food containers like pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, Chinese takeout containers, and other food packaging to repel grease, and they could leach into the food,” says Olson. “So NRDC and our partners petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban three of the worst PFAS from food uses. In January 2016, the FDA granted our petition and banned those three. But chemical cousins of those PFAS are still being used. And the trouble is, manufacturers don’t have to disclose to consumers that they’re using them.”
In addition to being in our surroundings, these chemicals are also inside of us. In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS were detected in 98 percent of participants’ breast milk, umbilical cord blood, and bloodstreams. PFAS has been linked to many health problems in animal and human studies, including cancer (kidney and testicular), hormonal dysfunction, liver and thyroid issues, immune system dysfunction, and abnormal fetal development.
Approximately 69,000 West Virginians, exposed to certain PFAS through their drinking water, suffered many of these problems, as revealed in C8 studies. In the mid-20th century, when scientists first synthesized PFAS and manufacturers embraced them as wonder ingredients in countless consumer products, these adverse effects were unknown. They failed to test their safety on adults and children, whose bodies are still developing and more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.
How Does PFAS Get Into Our Food?
According to the FDA, the use of soil, water, or biosolids contaminated with PFAS to grow crops, feed animals intended for food, or raise fish or other seafood, can lead to PFAS entering the food supply. Once it has entered the food, we consume the food or water, and the PFAS then enters our system.
What are the potential health implications?
A recent review from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines a host of health effects associated with PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased asthma and thyroid disease risk.
According to EPA, health advisories concerning perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are based on the best peer-reviewed studies on laboratory animals (rats and mice) and epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to PFASs. A substantial amount of PFOA or PFOS may negatively impact a fetus during pregnancy or on infants after breastfeeding. Low birth weight, accelerated puberty, and skeletal variations are examples. In addition to cancer, hormones can cause issues with testicles, kidneys, livers (e.g., tissue damage), immune systems (e.g., antibodies, immunity), thyroids, and other organ problems such as cholesterol changes.
How To Reduce Your PFAS Intake
It is recommended that we minimize our exposure to and use of PFAS, regardless of how prevalent they are. Here are some ways you can reduce your PFAS intake:
- If your water provider has not tested for PFAS in your area, ask them to do so and ask your state to monitor for these chemicals. Your state and water provider should install treatments to remove PFAS from your water if it is contaminated.
- Since PFAS are likely not listed on labels, ask manufacturers if their products contain them. (Be aware: Many products claiming to be “PFOA Free” include other types of PFAS. Products that claim to be “PFAS Free” or free of fluorocarbons or fluorinated chemicals are the safer options.)
- Avoid nonstick cookware, Gore-Tex clothing, personal care products with “PTFE” or “fluoro” ingredients, as well as fabrics with stain-resistant treatments such as Scotchgard. If at all possible, avoid buying items that are “waterproof,” “water-resistant,” or “stain-resistant.” PFAS Central, a project of the Green Science Policy Institute, provides a list of PFAS-free products.
- Stainless steel, cast iron, glass, and ceramic cookware are better alternatives to nonstick cookware.
- Don’t order or heat food that is housed in grease-proof packaging.
- Avoid microwave bags that contain PFAS by making popcorn on the stovetop.
PFASs, which include more than 4,000 distinct types, are just beginning to be understood, says Elsie Sunderland, an associate professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her observation also noted how new compounds are routinely used to replace old ones in the chemical industry. “People call it chemical whack-a-mole.”
Take the precaution of doing what’s best for you and your family in the long run, and start replacing household goods containing PFAS with a more eco-friendly and healthier alternative.