If you have paid attention to the news at all in the last few years, it is likely you have seen something about PFAS contamination. These “forever chemicals” are a class of man-made chemicals that are common in every day products like Teflon and Scotchgard. Originally introduced in 1946 by the DuPont chemical company, this class of chemicals has expanded to thousands of different compounds since and found their way into many of the products we use on a day to day basis.
PFAS are scientifically known as Per- or Polyfluoroalkyl substances. The name represents thousands of different compounds used to make surfaces that repel water, grease and prevent stains. The two most infamous of these chemicals are PFOA (used for Teflon products) and PFOS (used in Scotchgard) have been phased out of production. While there has been pressure for industry to phase this entire class of chemicals out completely, progress has been slow, and many of these are still used for consumer and industrial applications.
As far as products containing PFAS, they are found in certain food packagings (i.e., fast food wrappers, popcorn bags), certain cosmetics, cookware, clothing and home goods. Because of how prolific these chemicals have been, unfortunately it is not uncommon to find them in the environment too. They have even been detected in the drinking water many municipalities.
There are a number of problems with these chemicals. They do not easily break down and remain in the environment and in our bodies for many years. As many as 99% of Americans have detectable levels of these chemicals in their blood. As far as their effect on our health, PFAS have been linked to cancer, weakened immunity, low birthweight, endocrine problems, high cholesterol and weight gain.
How Do We Avoid PFAS?
Because of how ubiquitous these products are, it is difficult to avoid them entirely. However, there are some steps that you can take that will mitigate your exposure to these chemicals.
• Skip take out food. Anything with wrappers or prepackaged food should likely be avoided. Skip the microwave popcorn.
• Stick to stainless steel and cast iron cookware. Avoid anything non-stick, anything made with Teflon or plastic cookware.
• Avoid personal care products containing PTFE or any ingredients with “Fluoro-“. This will require reading labels.
• Avoid clothing made with Teflon, Scotchgard and Gore-tex materials. Most waterproof clothing unfortunately contains PFAS.
• Avoid stain repellent treatments for furniture and read labels for leather conditioners. Unfortunately many carpets contain PFAS.
• Filter your drinking water. Reverse osmosis is best, but those systems can be costly. Any filtration system is better than nothing though.
***The EWG is a great source of information about how to protect yourself against PFAS.