Dangerous “forever” chemicals called PFAS are contaminating drinking water, food, and the air.
It may be impossible to completely avoid PFAS, but there are some simple ways to reduce your exposure.
Eating at home, getting rid of nonstick pans and unnecessary rugs, and filtering your water can all help.
Dangerous, long-lasting “forever chemicals” are all over the news these days, and they’re all over our everyday environments, too.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are a class of thousands of man-made substances that are common in everyday objects, but research is making it increasingly clear that they can be harmful to human health. Peer-reviewed studies have linked them to some cancers, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, and developmental delays.
That’s bad news, as PFAS last for decades without breaking down, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Researchers have found them in drinking water and household dust around the planet, in the oceans, at both poles, and drifting through the atmosphere.
In a paper published last month, leading researchers from Stockholm University concluded that all of the planet’s rainwater, and probably all of its soil, is contaminated with unsafe levels of PFAS. Ian Cousins, who led that investigation, fears it may be impossible to avoid the chemicals.
“I don’t mind,” Cousins told Insider, adding, “It’s almost mission impossible. You really can’t do it.”
Even if you can’t completely avoid PFAS, there are some easy ways to reduce exposure in your daily life.
Eat at home, with minimal grease-resistant packaging
PFAS were developed in the 1940s to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. That means they ended up in a lot of food packaging. That includes pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, some wrappers, and greaseproof paper.
Restaurants and fast food chains may use this type of packaging more than grocery stores. A 2019 study found that people had lower levels of PFAS in their blood after eating at home and higher levels after eating fast food or restaurants.
Still, Cousins said, “All foods are contaminated with PFAS.”
Be careful with non-stick pans
The coating used on nonstick cookware usually contains PFAS, and they can easily leach into food at high temperatures and once the coating is scratched.
The Washington Department of Ecology advises against heating nonstick cookware above 400 degrees Fahrenheit and recommends throwing them away once the nonstick coating gets scratched. Cast iron pans are a safe alternative.
Cousins, however, said “Scratching pans is not an exposure problem.” He added that there are low levels of harmful PFAS in the Teflon coating, but the worst of it was removed in the early 2000s.
Get rid of your stain-resistant carpets and fabrics
Water- and stain-resistant treatments, common on household items such as carpets and clothing such as raincoats, also contain PFAS. Researchers don’t think the chemicals can be easily absorbed into your body through your skin, but those fabrics do give off fibers that can travel around the house as dust and eventually be ingested or inhaled.
Vacuum, dust and open the windows.
PFAS accumulate in dust, which remains in the air and allows humans to breathe the chemicals into their lungs. By dusting and vacuuming regularly, as well as opening windows to allow airflow and ventilation, you can keep dust levels low in your home and reduce the amount of PFAS you eat.
Test and maybe treat your drinking water
You can test your water for PFAS through a laboratory certified by your state. If your water exceeds the guidelines, you may want to consider doing something about it, especially if you have children.
Even at very low levels, exposure to two of the most common PFASs, called PFOA and PFOS, have been linked to reduced vaccine response in children. That investigation prompted the US Environmental Protection Agency to revise its drinking water guidelines, lowering safe levels of those substances by a factor of 17,000. In August, the agency issued a proposal to classify those two PFAS as hazardous substances.
Some types of water filters can lower PFAS levels, although they may not completely remove the chemicals from the water. State environmental departments recommend filtration systems that use reverse osmosis for tap water. They also recommend filter systems that use granular activated carbon (also known as carbon), which can be installed on faucets around the house or used in a tabletop pitcher, but a 2020 study found mixed results from those systems.
If you get your drinking water from a well, the EPA recommends testing it regularly and contacting your state health or environmental agency for certified laboratories and safety standards.
Check before buying cosmetics
Last year, a group of researchers published the results of PFAS tests on 231 cosmetic products in the US and Canada. More than half of the products contained indicators of the chemicals.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a publicly searchable database of cosmetics and personal care products, which highlights ingredients with potential risks to human health, such as PFAS such as Teflon. They also keep a map where you can check if you live near a PFAS contamination site.
The Green Science Policy Institute also maintains a list of PFAS-free products, including a guide to cosmetics.
Ultimately, Cousins said, people don’t have to be “very concerned” about low-level exposure, since there’s no strong evidence of major population health impacts. In the US, manufacturers have been phasing out the most harmful known PFASs (PFOAs and PFOS) since the early 2000s. Over the past 20 years, levels of those substances in human blood have decreased, according to CDC.
Still, reducing the use of PFAS in consumer products could prevent the problem from getting worse in the future.
“I think we should use this to get a little bit angry about what happened and try to make a change, so we don’t keep doing this,” Cousins said. “Maybe we have to use [PFAS] in some cases, but only when absolutely essential. And then we should also try to innovate, try to replace them in the long term.”
This story has been updated to reflect disagreements in the scientific community about the extent of PFAS exposure from Teflon. It was originally published on September 17, 2022.
Read the original article on Business Insider