Lab Experiments

PFAS

PFAS (an abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of over 6,000 synthetic chemicals that contain bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms that are widely used in consumer products and industrial processes. Their main use is to make products water, grease or stain-resistant. PFAS is commonly found in carpeting, upholstery fabrics, food packaging, outdoor wear and active apparel, make-up and personal care products. They are also used in non-stick coatings, especially for cookware, like Teflon pans. This use is also found in plastics that are designed to go smoothly through manufacturing extruders and other processing equipment.

 

Another major use of PFAS is in firefighting foam and many of the PFAS-contaminated sites in the United States include airports, military bases and firefighter training locations.

 

Often referred to as “forever chemicals” these substances are very persistent in the environment and in our bodies.  Ninety-nine percent of Americans have PFAS in their blood. The most commonly known substances in this class of chemicals are  perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). 

Fast Facts

  • PFAS are man-made chemicals used to make products stain, heat and water resistant, and to manufacture non-stick coatings for pots and pans.
     

  • PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and in our bodies. They are toxic to humans and can contaminate water and food.
     

  • Exposure occurs from direct contact with consumer products, packaging, contaminated drinking water or food supplies, or from heating non-stick pans.

Studies have shown that PFOA is associated with kidney and testicular cancer and thyroid problems while PFOS is linked to reproductive damage and developmental effects. PFAS are also associated with obesity, elevated cholesterol, endocrine and disruption, nervous system toxicity, low birth weight and immune suppression. A recent study found that there is likely no safe level of exposure to PFAS.

Because PFAS don’t break down in the environment, they easily migrate and cause contamination of critical resources, posing serious threats to drinking water and food supplies around the globe. How exactly does this occur?  When products with PFAS find their way into wastewater, most treatment plants do not remove it and so it passes through the system in the treated wastewater and biosolids, which are used as fertilizer for agricultural crops.  Also, when PFAS products are discarded as garbage, they contaminate the leachate from landfills, which can contaminate groundwater and nearby surface waters.  Recent reports revealed that at least 712 sites across the United States are contaminated with PFAS chemicals, including drinking water supplies.  Currently, there is no enforceable federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for PFAS in drinking water, however, several states have been developing enforceable and stringent standards.

 

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, the former Director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program states that the safety threshold for PFOA in water should be as low as 0.1parts per trillion (ppt), which is 700 times lower than the U.S. EPA’s current advisory level of 70 ppt.

What You Can Do:

• Avoid purchasing clothing, furniture or other consumer products treated with stain-resistant chemicals.  Watch out for claims like “stain resistant” and “water repellent.”
• Avoid products that are labeled Teflon®, Scotchguard®, Stainmaster®, and GoreTex.

• Avoid the use of non-stick cookware, as these can emit fluorinated chemicals when exposed to high heat.
• Avoid foods with grease-resistant packaging (such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and restaurant take-out containers).
• Filter your drinking water. (See our section on water for more information)
• Regularly clean homes and offices with a damp disposable cloth to prevent the buildup of dust containing PFAS.

• Avoid playing sports on artificial turf fields. (See our section on synthetic turf for more information)

PFAS Resources
 
Web Resources
  • The Green Science Policy Institute, founded by our friend and colleague Dr. Arlene Blum, is the best source for detailed, science-based information and policies directed at reducing these chemicals in our environment. 
     

  • Breast Cancer Prevention Partners has an excellent web page on the links between PFOA and delayed menstruation, later breast development and increased incidence of breast cancer. 

 
Pages 
  • Food and Hormones

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