With recent advances in technology and science, our lives have become more convenient than ever before. Tasks that would have taken days or weeks to achieve can now easily be completed with a single push of a button. That said, these conveniences don’t come without their own demerits. Take for example PFASs.
PFAS is a water-, oil-, and heat-resistant compound that became popular during the 1950s and 60s. Although these chemicals were widely used in society, their production was discontinued due to multiple PFAS lawsuits that claimed that the compound was detrimental to people’s health.
What are PFASs? And should we be worried about them?
Here’s everything you need to know about PFASs.
What are PFASs?
PFASs are man-made chemicals that were mostly used in industrial and consumer products.
In the past, manufacturers incorporated them in things like microwave popcorn bags, house cleaners, non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, fast food wrappers, and even personal care products.
There are an estimated 4,700 types of PFAS chemicals.
Two of the most popularly studied PFASs are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These compounds have been permanently banned from production in the United States. However, some countries may still be using them in products to this day.
PFASs contain linked chains of carbon and fluorine, making them one of the strongest compounds in nature. This means it doesn’t degrade as easily and lingers in your body and in the environment for a very long time.
It makes sense why most people call PFASs the “forever chemical.”
How common are PFASs?
According to a study from the Environmental Working Group of 44 different taps in 31 states, researchers found that 43 taps had high levels of PFASs in their waters.
Although it might not be as obvious, water can easily be contaminated by PFASs if the water source is located near a facility that uses or handles PFASs. A few examples are wastewater treatment facilities and manufacturing plants.
How are people exposed to PFASs?
Consuming contaminated drinking water is one of the most common ways a person can get exposed to PFASs. Other ways a person can be exposed include the following:
- Eating seafood or fish that was caught from contaminated waters
- Coming in contact or consuming/swallowing contaminated soil and dust
- Consuming goods and food that have been packaged with materials that contain PFAS
- Using products such as nonstick cookware, stain resistance carpets and upholstery, or water-repellant clothing
Babies can also be exposed to PFAS by breastfeeding or during pregnancy — if the mother has been exposed to PFAS during that period. Regardless, experts recommend mothers continue breastfeeding despite having been exposed to PFAS. This is because breastfeeding is essential for a baby’s wellness, and further studies have yet to be conducted on specific health effects PFAS can have on infants.
What can PFAS do to your body?
Research shows that PFAS exposure can lead to elevated cholesterol, kidney and liver damage, low birth weight, fertility issues, and thyroid disease. Some studies have even linked it to a suppressed immune system in children, which could potentially render vaccines ineffective.
People who are exposed to high levels of PFAS are also at higher risk of developing testicular and kidney cancer.
How can people lower their exposure to PFAS?
Although there’s no getting rid of PFASs anytime soon, there are ways people can lessen their exposure and, in turn, decrease their risk of developing harmful health conditions.
Here’s what you can do to lower PFAS exposure:
- Find out if your water has been contaminated with PFAS by reaching out to your local water utility
- Compare your results to your state’s standards for safe levels of PFAS in drinking water
- Contact your state environmental protection agency or health department if you are concerned about the level of PFAS in your drinking water
- Contact your state or tribal fish advisory programs to find out with waterways may be PFAS-contaminated
- If proven that the waterways are contaminated, follow fish consumption guidelines and stop/avoid eating contaminated fish
To learn more about how you can lower your exposure to PFAS, you can visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency website.