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Addressing PFAS for the Future of Human Health

PFAS are manmade and widely used. They’ve been linked to numerous adverse effects on people and are now in the water, air, and land. Here’s why we need to address PFAS for the future of human health.

Also known as forever chemicals, PFAS are per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They’re manmade and widely used in producing waterproof clothing, nonstick pans, firefighting foam, and makeup, to name just a few of the countless products these potential toxins contaminate. They’ve been linked to numerous adverse effects on people and are now in the water, air, and land. Here’s why we need to address PFAS for the future of human health.

Health Problems PFAS May Cause

One reason we need to address PFAS chemicals is they’re linked to several medical problems. According to the CDC, more data is necessary to confirm these suspected health effects in humans, although animal studies show poor medical outcomes.

Since the studies are relatively new and PFAS builds up in the bloodstream over time, it’s unclear how different types of forever chemicals may affect people throughout their lives. The EPA has issued drinking water health advisories for PFAS and issued a proposal to list two common PFAS as hazardous substances under Superfund. PFAS are suspected to cause the following conditions:

1. Reduced Kidney Function

PFAS exposure is linked to chronic kidney disease and reduced glomerular filtration rate, which measures how well your kidneys filter your blood.

2. Thyroid Disruption

Exposure to PFAS has also been linked to increased thyroid-stimulating hormone levels and decreased thyroxine levels. These hormones affect your weight, heart, body temperature, height, mood and muscle strength.

3. Metabolic Syndrome

This condition raises a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. It also increases their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

4. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs during or after pregnancy, which causes dangerously high blood pressure, leg swelling and protein in the urine.

5. Cancer

Leukemia and bladder, liver, prostate, testicular and kidney cancer are associated with work exposure to PFAS. Scientists still need to do more studies to determine which PFAS, if any, directly cause cancer, but the evidence is mounting.

6. Elevated Cholesterol

PFAS can potentially raise cholesterol. High cholesterol can increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

7. Gestational Diabetes

This is a complication seen in pregnancy in which expectant mothers develop diabetes. It raises a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

8. Low Birth Weight

Being exposed to PFAS in the womb is associated with lower birth weight. Babies with a lower-than-normal weight at birth tend to have problems staying warm, fighting off infections and gaining weight.

9. Altered Puberty

One study found babies exposed to certain PFAS chemicals in the womb hit puberty earlier than average, while other PFAS caused puberty to occur later.

10. Suppressed Immune Response

Several studies have also found a correlation between exposure to higher levels of PFAS and suppressed immune responses. This suggests the chemicals could affect the immune system, which helps fight infections.

Alternatives to Using PFAS Chemicals

What can you use instead of products that contain PFAS? How can you avoid them in your everyday life? Some suggestions include:

1. Use Cast Iron and Stainless-Steel Cookware

Nonstick pans can contain PFAS, so choose uncoated pans instead.

2. Pop Your Own Popcorn

Popcorn bags are a common source of PFAS, so buy loose kernels and pop them on the stovetop or in a paper bag in the microwave.

3. Buy Naturally Stain-Resistant Fabrics

Scotchgard and Gore-Tex spray contain PFAS. Even some baby bibs are known to contain forever chemicals. When shopping for furniture, clothing or carpet, opt for plant-based or polyester fabrics with stain-resistant qualities. You could also choose dark colors that hide stains.

4. Filter Your Water

Use a filter to purify your tap water before drinking it. Polluted tap water is one of the most common sources of PFAS.

5. Cook at Home More Often

Fast food packages and wrappers often contain PFAS. If you do buy fast food, take it out of the wrapper quickly and reheat it on a plate if it gets cold. You can also purchase food from restaurants pledging not to use PFAS in their packaging.

6. Choose Makeup Wisely

Water-resistant makeup, ingredients that contain “fluoro-” in their name and polytetrafluoroethylene are all potentially harmful. Buy cosmetics without these chemicals.

7. Wear a Mask

When you’re vacuuming, wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in contaminated dirt particles. Dust your house with a damp cloth so the dust sticks rather than scatters into the air.

8. Get PFAS-Free Floss

Even dental care products are often coated with PFAS. Look up brands of floss that don’t contain these chemicals.

Addressing PFAS for the Future of Human Health

Forever chemicals are aptly named. With their ability to linger in the environment and build up in the human body, more research is needed to uncover their potential health effects.

Mounting evidence suggests PFAS may lead to cancer, problems during pregnancy, thyroid issues, suppressed immune systems and more. Researchers need to investigate the consequences of using, spreading, and consuming these chemicals for the future of human and environmental health.

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