Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are toxic chemicals found in household items like make-up, nonstick cookware, and even waterproof clothing. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to a wide range of serious health problems including cancer and endocrine system disruptions. PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for decades.
Where Are PFAS Used?
PFAS are used by companies including DuPont and 3M to produce waterproof clothing, carpeting, flooring materials, nonstick surfaces, and even firefighting foam. They can be found in personal care products including sunscreen, shaving cream, shampoos, and cosmetics. More than 5,000 PFAS substances are used by manufacturers around the world.
How Common is the Problem?
The CDC estimates that approximately 95% of the US population has some level of PFAS in their system. They are classified as an emerging contaminant by the Environmental Protection Agency and increasing levels of these chemicals have been discovered in drinking water supplies, packaged food products, and personal care products.
According to the CDC, PFOA can remain in the body for up to 4 years, PFOS for up to 6 years, and PFHxS for up to 9 years. The presence of these chemicals in the body can cause changes to hormone levels, decrease gestational length, reduce birth weight, increase neonatal mortality, and diminish immune system response. PFAS exposure can also cause liver damage and lead to the development of prostate, testicular, kidney, and other forms of cancer.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid exposure to PFAS. These toxins are found in the drinking water supplies of 38 states and such a vast range of products that exposure is inevitable. However, it is possible to reduce exposure. This means avoiding the use of nonstick cookware, carefully checking cosmetics and other products including soaps and detergents for PFAS, and limiting the consumption of fast food and carry-out items. These steps can reduce the buildup of PFAS in the body’s tissues.
While state legislators and federal regulators are slowly implementing bans on PFAS, these chemicals can persist in the environment for decades. Even if a total ban were issued today, the problem will persist for many years to come.