How to Reduce Your Exposure to PFAS: Hidden Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’

Share to Pinterest While the widespread use of PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” makes it nearly impossible to avoid, experts say you can reduce your exposure to them. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty ImagesThe state of California has passed new legislation banning the use of PFAS in “youth products.”PFAS are often used in children’s products to provide stain and water resistance.PFAS have been linked to numerous health effects, including cancer.They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment.Experts say you can limit your exposure by not using products that contain them, but they are impossible to avoid.

California Governor Gavin Newsome signed legislation on Oct. 5 banning chemicals known as PFAS in “youth products.”

Juvenile products are intended for infants and children under the age of 12, according to the bill, and include cribs, booster seats and changing pads, among other things.

But the new law would exclude electronic products for children, medical devices, internal components of products that would not normally come into contact with a child’s skin or mouth, and mattresses for adults.

PFAS are of concern because of their effects on human health and persistence in the environment.

The new law aims to limit the exposure of children to these hazardous substances.

The ban will come into effect on July 1, 2023.

It applies to new items and requires manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative available.

According to Keith Vorst, PhD, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University, PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals that have a wide variety of applications in consumer and industrial products.

“They consist of fluorinated bonds with excellent properties that prevent degradation of industrial and chemical products,” explains Vorst, “thus offering a longer shelf life and oil/grease and water repellency.”

According to Rainer Lohmann, PhD, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, one of the main uses of PFAS has been in fuel firefighting foam (aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF).

They have also been used to make fluoropolymers, such as Teflon and Scotchgard-based products, he said.

They are often used in children’s products to provide stain and water resistance.

Lohmann said high levels of exposure to PFAS have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer and high cholesterol.

Background exposure has been shown to have adverse effects on the immune system and has been linked to insulin resistance and obesity, he said.

Vorst added that these chemicals have high toxicity and have been linked to endocrine disruption, thyroid disease and high blood pressure.

PFAS are also harmful because they are “forever chemicals”.

“The carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds,” Lohmann said, “and it doesn’t break down easily or quickly naturally.

“So any PFAS that are fully fluorinated (all hydrogen atoms have been replaced with fluorine) will not break down quickly or naturally in any significant amount.”

As a result, PFAS can persist in the environment for a long time. PFAS such as PFOA and PFOS do not naturally degrade in the environment.

In addition, PFAS can build up in body tissues over time. Toxins that build up in the body faster than they can be eliminated can have serious health consequences.

Lohmann said avoiding PFAS is “somewhat tricky.”

But the most obvious way to avoid exposure is to stay away from products that contain them, he said. In particular, he pointed to waterproof or stain-resistant textiles and clothing.

Other common uses for PFAS are in food contact materials such as takeout containers, cosmetics and stain-free sprays.

Vorst agreed that it’s best to only buy or use products that are PFAS-free.

However, he added, “You cannot avoid them because they are ubiquitous in products and in the environment.”

“We must continue to develop research into appropriate PFAS replacement that does not affect the environment or human health,” he said.

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