Exposure to pfas

The 'forever chemical'

Exposure to Pfas

The 'Forever Chemical'

Let's Superpower Our Kids

15% off discount code when you subscribe

Exposure to PFAS: The ‘Forever Chemicals’

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a composite of manufactured chemicals used in everyday products, according to the National Institute of Health.

Scientifically, PFAS molecules have a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. The carbon-fluorine bond between the particles is notably strong, causing PFAS to degrade exceptionally slowly in the environment, earning the nickname “forever chemicals.”

The PFAS regularly used in products typically consist of at least 9,000 different synthetic chemicals. PFAS make surfaces resistant to stains, water, and grease. Teflon nonstick pans and Scotchgard water repellent contain these everlasting chemicals. They’re found in waterproof clothing, rubber, plastic, carpets, food packaging take-out containers, and even in some dental flosses. 

Who is At-Risk for Exposure to PFAS?

According to the CDC, PFAS are found in 98% of Americans (via a urine test). Further testing revealed drinking water and ocean water contains PFAs. Barely biodegradable, they’ve leached into our soil, air, and water. 

Humans are most likely exposed to these chemicals by consuming PFAS through contaminated water or food and using products that contain PFAs. A few industries and occupations are more impacted by PFAS in the environment than others. Chemical manufacturing workers, Firefighters, and Skin wax technicians are listed as having prolonged exposure to PFAS. 

How Harmful to Health Are PFAS, Anyway?

Research reveals possible links between human exposure to PFAS and adverse health outcomes. These health effects include: 

Growing data links PFAS to many adverse health conditions, including cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, impaired fertility, immune system disruption, high cholesterol, and more. The EPA and International Agency for Cancer Research have labeled PFAS as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

woman pediatrician with child exposure to pfas
Exposure to PFAS in cookware and teflon pans

The Notorious PFOA: Teflon

The most notorious PFAS chemical, PFOA (aka the Teflon chemical), was fortunately phased out under pressure from the EPA. Despite that, products containing this chemical are still allowed to be imported into the USA.

Numerous studies link PFOAs and closely related PFAS chemicals to:

  • Testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Reproductive problems
  • Weakened childhood immunity
  • Low birth weight
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Weight gain in children and dieting adults

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded in 2016 that PFOA and PFOS were hazardous to human immune system function.

Routine Items, Routine Exposure

One of the most significant ways we are exposed to PFAS is by drinking water. Unreleased federal data suggests that up to 110 million Americans could have PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

Several studies have shown that nearly 70,000 people near a Teflon plant in West Virginia linked PFOA in tap water to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and other health problems. Further research has linked PFOA to disrupting the hormone system and harming reproduction and development. Even shallow levels of exposure have been linked to severe health risks, especially for children, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines and low birth weight.

Other common ways we are exposed to PFAS are through cookware. Although the original Teflon has been taken off the market, Teflon and other nonstick cookware brands are still produced with new PFAS that may be no safer. Additionally, you can find PFAS in the paper used to wrap fast food items and bakery goods. Stain-resistant furniture and carpets treated with Scotchgard likely contain these chemical.

PFAS are common in water-repellent clothes and jackets. Popular brands (that like to speak about how much they are protecting the environment) like North Face, Patagonia, LL Bean, Adidas, Columbia, and Jack Wolfskin all contain PFAS.

Personal care items and cosmetics contain PFAS, as they lengthen shelf life. According to the EWG’s skin-deep website, PFAS are commonly found in makeup, sunscreen, shampoo, shaving cream, and other commonly-used products. Unfortunately, PFAS are the most problematic chemicals in those beauty products and the EWG strongly urges people to avoid all products with PFAS, including cosmetics and personal care products.

PFAS chemicals are listed on product labels, so you should be wary of any ingredient with “fluoro” in the name.

Tips on Limiting Your Exposure to PFAS (The Checklist)

Get rid of any nonstick cookware

Get rid of any nonstick cookware. Beware of cookware that says PFOA free. It’s a marketing tactic that often means another PFAS likely replaced it. Stainless steel and cast iron are great alternatives.

Bring your own container for take-out or to-go orders

Or ditch these foods altogether. Take-out containers often contain PFAS.

Avoid all Scotchgard treatments on your furniture.

Look out for PFAS-coated dental floss.

If you are buying carpet, ask for untreated carpet.

Read the label

Avoid products that have PTFE or “perfluoro” in the ingredient list. Products include cosmetics, varnishes, and household items.

Look for non-PFAS clothing and sports gear

Including fabrics with a Scotchguard or Goretex coating.

Quick Fixes Are Not the Solution

PFOA, PFOS, and related chemicals were phased out because they contain eight carbon atoms. Since the phase-out, the FDA and the EPA have allowed the introduction of “short-chain” replacements that contain six carbon atoms, claiming they are safer. However, these “short-chain” replacements could be worse and, so far, are linked to tumors in lab animals.

It’s vital to stay aware of developments and protect yourself and your children accordingly, whenever possible. 

We at My Superhero foods are committed to following the best possible evidence and will reevaluate our opinions as the information changes.

Additional Reading:

Environmental Working Group

Environmental Working Group

Environemental Working Group