Every day millions of Americans drink water contaminated with potentially harmful levels of PFAS, a class of chemicals used in Teflon pans and other fire or water repellent products.
In fact, if you live in the United States, you likely have PFAS in your body. PFAS exposure is linked to serious medical problems, including cancer, infertility, and impaired fetal development. Yet, PFAS are virtually unregulated by the federal government. No enforceable rules to protect our families from PFAS exist. This must change now.
What Is PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of approximately 5,000 man-made organic chemicals
PFAS are used in non-stick cookware like pans, fabric stain-protective coatings, fast food wrappers,microwave popcorn bags, personal care products, and firefighting foams.
The carbon-fluorine bonds of PFAS means these are resistant to degradation in the environment; can persist for decades in water and air; and accumulate in our bodies over time.
How Are People Exposed to PFAS?
- Drinking water is the main pathway.
- PFAS enters drinking water through firefighting foam used at military bases and commercial airports; industrial sites; and run-off or leaching from contaminated solids from wastewater treatment plants.
- PFAS are present in our food supply due to leaching from packaging, fish ingesting contaminated water, and irrigating vegetables with contaminated water.
- Workers involved in making or processing PFAS and PFAS containing materials may be exposed by inhaling them or absorbing them through theirskin.
- People, particularly infants and toddlers, may ingest PFAS from hand-to-mouth transfer from surfaces treated with PFAS-containing stain protectants such as carpet.
Medical Harms Associated with PFAS
Kidney cancer and testicular cancer
Impaired liver function
Impaired fetal development
Chronic intestinal inflammation
Disruption of critical thyroid hormones
Weakened immune system
A potentially fatal complication of pregnancy called preeclampsia
Elevated blood pressure during pregnancy
Medical Harms Associated with PFAS
- Manufacturers like 3M and DuPont spent decades studying and covering up evidence of the negative human and environmental impacts of PFAS.
- Current screening methods can detect only a fraction of the approximately 5,000 PFAS compounds. Many of which are undetectable to researchers.
- The Environmental Protection Agency fails to regulate PFAS as it doesn’t require polluters to notify communities when PFAS use happens nearby, or alert families when PFAS are released in the environment. In addition, EPA’s approval requirements for new chemicals is riddled with loopholes. For example, EPA allows companies to skirt notice requirements for PFAS if they are produced in low volume, as byproducts, or if they are used for test marketing.
What About the Chemical Industry’s Newer PFAS Formulations–Do They Solve the Problem?
- Certain older PFAS like PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the U.S. because they have been linked to serious medical conditions and harm to the environment; but,
- PFOA and PFOS remain in our environment and bodies because they were made and used domestically for decades, and are resistant to degradation;
- imported products still contain those “legacy” PFAS; and, many other PFAS can transform into PFOA and/or PFOS in the body when ingested.
- Industry says the replacement PFAS have “significantly improved health and safety profiles,” but no studies
demonstrate that replacement PFAS are safe.
- Replacement PFAS are similarly persistent as legacy PFAS;
- Replacement PFAS are highly mobile in the environment, posing an even greater potential for long-range contamination than legacy PFAS;
- EPA recently concluded that exposure to a commonly used replacement PFAS is likely to be associated with adverse health risks at lower doses than PFOA.
- Available remediation methods like activated carbon filters are largely ineffective for absorbing and removing the replacement PFAS from water.
- Leading government scientists have acknowledged PFAS cannot be regulated individually. Rather, “approaching PFAS as a class for assessing exposure and biological impact is the best way to protect public health.”