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PFAS

PFAS (an abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is a family of over 4,700 synthetic chemicals that have been widely used in consumer products and industrial processes for decades. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” these substances are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic to humans. They don’t break down easily, and migrate through our environment causing contamination of drinking water and our food supply in affected areas.

 

PFAS chemicals are used to make products resistant to stains, heat and water. Examples include carpeting, food packaging, clothing and furniture. PFAS chemicals are also used to manufacture non-stick coatings, and are found in products like Teflon®, Scotchguard® and Stainmaster®, as well as firefighting foam and some nanotech products.  They have also been detected in the synthetic grass fibers in artificial turf fields.

 

The most commonly known substances in this class of chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perflurooctane sulfonate (PFOS).  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. These chemicals are also associated with obesity, elevated cholesterol, endocrine disruption, nervous system toxicity, low birth weight and immune system problems.

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.

Although PFOA and PFOS have been phased out of production, their replacements have been shown to be just as persistent in the environment and in our bodies. Studies have shown that these alternatives may cause similar health problems with similar or even higher toxicity, yet they remain on the market.

Currently, there is no enforceable federal limit for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, although several states have been developing enforceable and stringent standards.  The U.S. EPA’s current advisory level for PFOS in water is 70 ppt., but many scientists have recommended a significant reduction in this limit.

 

While more research is needed and enforceable standards need to be developed, consumers should exercise caution when dealing with products that may contain these chemicals and limit exposure when possible.

What You Can Do:

• Avoid purchasing clothing, furniture or other items treated with stain-resistant chemicals.

• Avoid the use of non-stick cookware, as these can emit harmful chemicals when exposed to high heat.

• Avoid food packaged with grease-resistant packaging (such as microwave popcorn and take-out food).

• Filter your drinking water. (See our section on water for more information)

• Avoid artificial turf fields and play areas. (See our section on synthetic turf

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. 

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