PFAS chemicals have been found in 99% of the humans tested and are known to cause a long list of cancers, birth defects, infertility, thyroid disease and more. This group of chemicals are “forever chemicals” because they never go away, not from the environment and not from our bodies.
What are PFAS chemicals?
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals which includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, among others. PFAS were first developed in the 1940s as a way to waterproof tanks in battle. They grew in popularity in the 1950s when large companies began manufacturing PFAS chemicals because of their ability to repel water, protect surfaces, resist heat.
Why are PFAS chemicals so dangerous?
Scientists agree that PFAS can lead to adverse health effects in humans. The most-studied PFAS chemicals are PFOA and PFOS. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can lead to reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both these chemicals have caused tumors in animals. Other effects include:
- increased cholesterol levels
- low infant birth weights
- effects on the immune system
- cancer (for PFOA)
- thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)
PFAS can absorb and accumulate in the body, and stay there for long periods of time. As exposure to PFAS from different sources happens over time, the levels in people’s bodies can increase to the point where they suffer from adverse health effects.
What products contain PFAS chemicals?
You probably know PFAS chemicals from Teflon products, the reason many of you have been getting rid of your non-stick pots and pans. Unfortunately, these chemicals are not only used for cookware!
For example, they make your floss glide and are in scotch guard that makes carpets stain resistant. They line the inside of all of your microwave popcorn bags and the compostable food containers you use. Companies also use PFAS for surgical gowns and drapes, in the manufacturing of electronic devices including cell phones and semiconductors, and even in commercial aircraft and low-emissions vehicles.
Some PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase out programs. One example is the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to stop using PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. However, these chemicals are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods including carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics. In addition, there are replacement chemicals which may be just as bad that have not yet been fully tested.
How does PFAS contamination occur?
PFAS chemicals have been used heavily for decades which has resulted in the contamination of water, soil, and the blood of both animals and people all over the world. When you compost products with PFAS chemicals, the chemicals leach into the ground. When you wash clothing, such as water resistant jackets that contain PFAS chemical coatings, they can enter the water in your washing machine and cause further contamination.
A report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that up to 100 million Americans could be drinking PFAS contaminated drinking water. From 2013 to 2015, the EPA mandated national testing for PFAS chemicals in public water systems. However, even though this project was funded by taxpayers, the full results of this testing were never made public. Water utilities with the highest concentrations of PFAS chemicals were publicly identified. But the names of utilities with detectable PFAS contamination that was below the reporting levels of 10 to 90 parts per trillion, were not released. Therefore millions of people were not informed that their water supply is contaminated with these chemicals.
How can I avoid PFAS chemicals?
Because manufacturers widely use PFAS chemicals which then contaminate the environment in a variety of ways, including product degradation and pollution discharges, it’s difficult for scientists to trace the exact routes that the chemicals will take as they find their way into the human bloodstream. This also makes avoiding them altogether difficult, if not impossible.
Here are a few ways you can limit exposure to PFAS chemicals:
- Cut back on fast food packaging that often contains PFAS chemicals.
- Do your research, especially when buying outdoor gear. Try to choose clothing that doesn’t have Gore-Tex or Teflon tags.
- Be cautious of any fabrics labeled stain or water repellent.
- Purchase products that haven’t been pre-treated.
- Skip optional stain repellent treatment on carpets and furniture.
- Avoid nonstick pans and kitchen utensils. Choose stainless steel or cast iron instead.
- Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way.
- Buy personal care products without “fluoro” or “PTFE” ingredients.
- Choose organic foods when possible. Sewage sludge is often spread on crop lands as fertilizer, and the sludge can be contaminated with PFAS. However, sewage sludge can’t be used on fields to grow organic produce.
Shop with ease! At Sprout, we are proud to perform extreme vetting to ensure the products we carry do not contain any harmful chemicals.