PFAS Poison

PF-What?

PFAS are a family of chemicals, also known as "forever chemicals" due to the fact they are extremely persistent in the environment and in our bodies. 

  • They have strong repellent and flame retardant properties and are used in a wide variety of products such as non-stick cookware [4, 11], stain & water repellents [4, 11], furniture [4], paints [5], cleaning products [5], carpets [4], food packaging [5] and dental floss [1]. 
  • There are over 4700 PFASs [18] used within industries but regulators are banning them one at a time, allowing manufacturers to simply swap one PFAS with the next closest PFAS alternative [6]. 
  • PFASs have been detected in the blood of 97% of Americans [7]
  • They have been recorded in air, water, sediment, plants, rain, snow, groundwater, rivers, lakes, seawater and wildlife.

So I'm Fireproof?

Whilst you won't be resistant to flames after ingesting PFASs, you can get a lot of other less useful and rather harmful effects. PFASs have been linked to:

  • Reducing the effectiveness of childrens' vaccinations [8].
  • Reducing the fertility of young men [9].
  • Negatively affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children [10].
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant [10].
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones [10].
  • Increase cholesterol levels [10].
  • Negatively affect the immune system [10].
  • Increase the risk of cancer [10].

DuPont and its spinoff company, Chemours, agreed to pay $670 million to settle thousands of lawsuits claiming the companies poisoned their water with PFOA. Scientists concluded there is a probable link to six diseases: kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol [14].

Are They All Bad? What's Being Done About Them?

  • Two PFASs (PFOA and PFOS) are well documented and known to cause harm to the environment and human health. These were banned across the  EU in June 2008 [12].
  • Due to the sheer number, there is little knowledge on a large amount of them.
  • A class within PFAS known as "Fluoropolymers" are thought to be of little health concern [13]. These are used widely for their water-resistant properties.
  • The phase-out in the USA and Europe has led to an increase of PFOA used in production in Asia, and often these products are still imported to Europe [15].
  • The restriction of specific chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS has led to replacement for compounds with a similar chemical composition and structure. These chemical compounds have been less well studied, but may have similar characteristics and environmental effects [15].
  • The Danish Coop has stopped selling cosmetics products containing PFASs and is imposing a ban on all products it sells [16].
  • The CHEM Trust has slated the UK government's current strategy to combat PFAS marine pollution [17].
  • Fidra, one SCIO and Scottish Registered Charity wants to see UK companies and retailers voluntarily removing PFAS from their supply chains, followed by legislation that prioritises human and environmental health, banning the full group of chemicals rather than the current one-by-one approach [15].

Let's Try to Swerve It

Exposure to PFASs comes mainly from drinking contaminated water, eating food packaged in certain materials, or using products embedded with PFASs [4]. You should:

  • Avoid non-stick cookware, Gore-Tex fabric and clothing made with pre-2000 Scotchguard [4].
  • Avoid personal care products containing PTFE or flouro ingredients [4].
  • Check with manufacturers if their products contain PFASs since they may not be labelled [4].
  • Visit https://www.pfasfree.org.uk/current-initiatives/inform-consumers/who-sells-what to find out more on retailers selling PFAS materials.

References

[1] Boronow, K.E., Brody, J.G., Schaider, L.A., Peaslee, G.F., Havas, L., &  Cohn, B.A., 2019. Serum concentrations of PFASs and exposure-related behaviors in African American and non-Hispanic white women. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-018-0109-y
[
2] US National Library of Medicine, 2017. Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa
[3] Naidenko, O.V., 2009. U.S. toxics should set exposure limit for chemicals in 'Teflon' family. https://www.ewg.org/news/testimony-official-correspondence/us-toxics-registry-should-set-exposure-limit-chemicals-teflon
[
4] Zanolli, L., 2019. Why you need to know about PFAS, the chemicals in your pizza boxes and rainware. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/23/pfas-everyday-products-toxics-guide 
[5] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Basic information on PFAS. https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas
[
6] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018. Toward a new comprehensive global database of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs): summary report on updating the OECD 2007 list of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).  http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=ENV-JM-MONO(2018)7&doclanguage=en
[
7] Lewis, R.C., Johns, L.E., Meeker, J.D., 2015. Serum biomarkers of exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances in relation to serum testosterone and measures of thyroid function among adults and adolescents from NHANES 2011–2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483690/
[8] Grandjean, P., Heilmann, C., Weihe, P., Nielsen, F., Mogensen, U.B., Timmermann, A., and Budtz-Jørgensene, E., 2018. Estimated Exposures to Perfluorinated Compounds in Infancy Predict Attenuated Vaccine Antibody Concentrations at Age 5-Years
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6190594/
[9] Di Nisio, A., Sabovic, I., Valente, U., Tescari, S., Rocca, M.S., Guidolin, D., Dall’Acqua, S., Acquasaliente, L., Pozzi, N., Plebani, M., Garolla, A., Foresta, C., 2018. Endocrine Disruption of Androgenic Activity by Perfluoroalkyl Substances: Clinical and Experimental Evidence. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-abstract/104/4/1259/5158211?redirectedFrom=fulltext
[
10] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2018. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects.html
[11] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2019. Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/1805/1805.pdf
[
12] Public Health England, 2009. PFOS and PFOA Toxicological Overview https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/338261/PFOS_and_PFOA_Toxicological_Overview_phe_v1.pdf
[
13] Henry, B.J., Carlin, J.P., Hammerschmidt, J.A., Buck, R.C., Buxton, L.W.,
Fiedler, H., Seed, J., and Hernandez, O., 2018. A Critical Review of the Application of Polymer of Low Concern
and Regulatory Criteria to Fluoropolymers. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ieam.4035
[
14] Chemical Watch https://chemicalwatch.com/53632/dupont-chemours-settle-pfoa-lawsuit-for-670m
[
15] Fidra https://www.pfasfree.org.uk/regulations
[
16] Chemical Watch https://chemicalwatch.com/75184/danish-coop-bans-cosmetics-containing-pfas-chemicals
[17] ChemTrust https://chemtrust.org/uk-act-now-protect-seas/
[
18] Lim, X.Z., 2019. Tainted water: the scientists tracing thousands of fluorinated chemicals in our environment. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00441-1

 

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