PFAS (the forever chemical) explained

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We are told nothing lasts forever, but there is a loophole of course when we’re talking about chemicals. In recent news, the forever chemical also known as PFAS ( poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances) have made headlines with the FDA’s promise to start to phase them out of food packaging. This comes after decades of scientific evidence of the chemical’s linkage to many health disorders and environmental damage. With a name über scientific and an acronym that isn’t too common to place, here’s a simplified version of everything you need to know about PFAS.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short, are a family of human-made chemicals that are found in practically everything used by consumers and industry. PFAS are so diverse and there are nearly 5,000 different types of them. The reason why PFAS is so regularly used is due to their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat. Since the 1940s companies have used PFAS for stain/water-resistant clothing, cleaning products, paint, fire extinguishers, and food packaging.

PFAS has the nickname of the ‘forever chemical’ due to its inability to break down in the environment. Meaning, the chemical just circulates constantly. This chemical has ended up contaminating drinking water in the United States and it’s predicted that 110 million Americans are drinking PFAS contaminated water. PFAS are also found in the food we eat due to contaminated agriculture. This chemical is unavoidable and recent studies show that nearly 99% of Americans would test positive for PFAS in their blood.

The most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, the Teflon chemical, and PFOS, an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard –have been phased out in the United States after receiving pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after revelations of their hidden hazards. (However, there’s a loophole for imported products.) Numerous studies link these PFAS chemicals to health issues such as:

  • Testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Reproductive problems
  • Weakened childhood immunity
  • Low birth weight
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Weight gain in children and dieting adult

On July 31, the FDA released a statement announcing a plan to phase out another PFAS. After conducting a post-market scientific study finding bio persistence of 6:2 FTOH (a type of PFAS) meaning this PFAS has potential health risks following dietary exposure. This PFAS is typically found in a range of food packagings such as pizza delivery boxes and fast food wrapping. Even though this means the FDA is officially taking this specific PFAS off the market, it is going to take some time before it will be officially phased out. According to the FDA, this will go into effect beginning in 2021 and only three manufacturers have agreed to this 3-year-phase out. It’s also anticipated it will take another 18 months for the PFAS products to be totally exhausted and off the market.

Right now you as the consumer don’t have much to protect yourself from PFAS exposure. At this point tougher laws and regulations are essential. However, there are some things you can do: Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster® to these or other items. Where possible, choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.

  • Avoid greasy or oily packaged and fast foods. Most of these packaging often contains grease-repellent coatings. Think of microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers.
  • Check out your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products with the ingredients Teflon or words like “fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs (a type of PFAS) can be found in a range of personal care products such as dental floss, nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
  • Don’t use non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Throw away products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.

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