How Long Is Forever? Tips for Avoiding PFAS Exposure.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a family of more than 12,000 man-made chemicals that have unique properties which make them heat-resistant, able to repel water, and close to indestructible. However, they accumulate in the environment and human bodies over time and do not easily degrade, which is why some people call them “forever chemicals.”
The PFAS issue hits very close to home. Hundreds of private wells as well as municipal wells and groundwater in the Town of Campbell on French Island are contaminated with PFAS. The contamination has been traced to the use of firefighting foam at the La Crosse Regional Airport which is located on French Island.
PFAS chemicals have been in wide use since the 1950s. They are found in a variety of everyday items. They line pizza boxes and fast-food packaging so the grease does not seep through. They form the nonstick coating on many pans and bakeware. They make fabrics and carpets stain-resistant. They help outdoor gear and clothing repel water.
Although two of the most widely used PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) have been phased out for use in commercial products in the United States, people continue to be exposed because they may still be used in other countries and because the chemicals produced decades ago are still present in the soil and water, including drinking water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS contaminates the blood of 99% of Americans. PFAS exposure has been linked to an increased risk of allergies and asthma in young children, decreased fertility, metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes, hormonal disruption, learning and behavior issues in children, and certain cancers.
So how do we minimize our exposure to these pervasive and “forever” chemicals? Check out these tips from Clean Water Action (cleanwater.org) below and this Green Science Policy link for PFAS-free products (https://pfascentral.org/pfas-free-products/)!
Ditch the non-stick cookware even if it says PFOA Free.
When heated at high temperatures, PFAS-containing cookware gives off fumes that are serious enough to cause flu-like symptoms in people and even kill pet birds. Don’t be fooled by PFOA-free labels, as that may just mean that the PFOA was replaced by another PFAS. Stainless steel and cast-iron cookware are great alternatives.
Can’t replace the cookware? Reduce the heat.
Don’t preheat non-stick cookware and never use it in an oven heated at or above 400 degrees. Also never use steel wool or other scraping cleaners on non-stick items; this can release the coating into your food or the environment.
Pop your own corn.
Microwave popcorn bags, including organic products, usually have PFAS coatings inside that can leach into your snack and are released into the air when you open the bag. Instead, buy loose popping corn and pop it on the stove. Alternatively, pop loose kernels in a covered bowl or paper bag in the microwave.
Bring your own container for to-go food.
Eating out? Bring your own metal or glass container to bring home your leftovers. You’ll avoid PFAS in take-out containers and reduce trash. Also limit foods like hamburgers, pastries, or French fries that come in grease-resistant packaging. Studies have detected PFAS in almost half of tested wrappers or pastry bags.
Reject PFAS-coated dental floss.
Some dental flosses contain PFAS and can be a significant exposure route. Tests indicate that the following brands in particular may have PFAS: CVS Health EaseBetween SuperSlip Dental Floss Waxed, Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Mint and Glide Pro-Health Original, Crest Glide Deep Clean Cool Mint Floss, Safeway Signature Care Mint Waxed Comfort Floss, and Colgate Total Dental Floss Mint. Best to google for “PFAS-free” before you shop.
Ask for untreated carpet.
Options for non-treated carpet in the residential market are limited, but asking for a PFAS-free alternative will help signal demand for safer options.
Avoid stain-resistant coatings.
Preventing stains with Scotchguard sprays or other PFAS containing coatings is not worth the risk. When buying furniture, consider polyester or plastic-based fabrics that are already stain resistant or easy to clean and choose darker colors. When cleaning fabrics, try vacuuming instead of dry cleaning.
Read the label.
Avoid products, including cosmetics, varnishes, and household items, that have PTFE or “perfluor” in the ingredient list.
Demand non-PFAS clothing and sports gear.
PFAS contaminate the environment, so using them outdoors doesn’t make sense. Some companies are currently trying to reformulate their products without PFAS. In the meantime, try to avoid products and fabrics with a Scotchguard or Goretex coating.