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Understanding the Environmental Issues With PFAS

PFAS items may be convenient, but they’re dangerous for you and the environment.

Sustainability is a significant concern in everyday life. Some people try walking to work or buying an electric vehicle (EV) to reduce their carbon footprint. Whether you realise it, you likely run into perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at home, at work and when you go out. PFAS items may be convenient, but they’re dangerous for you and the environment.

What Is PFAS?

PFAS are chemicals that humans create, with origins dating back to the 1940s. DuPont, a chemical company, used PFAS in 1946 to make nonstick cookware with Teflon coating. Some people call PFAS the forever chemicals because they extend the life of everyday items. They last a long time but can create problems for the environment.

Some common types of PFAS you’ll encounter are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS). You’ll see PFOS in carpets and rugs, while PFHxS is typically in metal plating and firefighting foams.

Numerous manufacturing and textile companies use PFAS, so they’re difficult to avoid. You likely encounter them in cleaning products, shampoo, makeup, umbrellas, clothes, pizza boxes and more.

How Does PFAS Harm Humans?

Items with PFAS are harmless in the short term, but the long-term health effects can be dangerous. Exposure to PFAS can compromise your blood and increase your risk of diseases. Lab studies on animals have shown PFAS harms their immune systems by damaging the liver. PFAS exposure also leads to lower birth weights and deaths and causes deaths in newborn animals.

Researchers are still examining the long-term effects on humans. Still, early studies have shown PFAS exposure can increase the risk of reproductive issues and cancers like kidney and prostate. The level of exposure is a significant factor, so people working in manufacturing may be more at risk because of their work environment. Children are also at high risk because their bodies are still developing and are more sensitive to these harmful contaminants.

How Does PFAS Harm the Environment?

PFAS are the forever chemicals, helping your purchases last longer. However, the downside is PFAS don’t break down naturally in the environment. Imagine you make popcorn to prepare for a movie night. The bags often have PFAS lining to prevent burning and leaking.

When you throw away the bag, the PFAS stay there forever. Once they reach the landfill, the PFAS can navigate the soil and enter groundwater. If the PFAS move to a lake or ocean, they can end up inside wildlife. Therefore, the fish you eat is at risk for PFAS contamination. 

PFAS are dangerous in the short and long term for the environment. Recent studies have shown they’re a contributing factor to climate change. A 2021 report revealed that a PFAS plant emitted over 240,000 pounds (109,000 kilogrammes) of chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22). The emissions compromise the safety of workers and the entire surrounding community.

How Can You Reduce PFAS Exposure?

Avoiding PFAS every day of your life would be a tricky feat. Still, there are ways you can limit your exposure and improve your health. Try these three strategies.

Speak With Your Wallet

Sustainability is a significant driving force in today’s economy. Numerous companies are changing their operations to become more sustainable. They’re finding ways to change because it’s right for the environment and their customers.

Studies show the average customer is becoming more aware of environmental issues and is using their wallet to speak. About 87% of consumers say they base their purchasing decisions on corporate social responsibility. How does the company view sustainability? Do they practise what they preach? These questions are becoming increasingly vital. As support for sustainability grows, businesses are less likely to use harmful materials like PFAS.

Be Aware

Many items in your house likely contain PFAS, so how do you determine what has them? The first step is to be aware. Labels might not tell you about the PFAS content inside the products you buy. Research what PFAS are everyday items online and replace them with more eco-friendly products. Alternatively, you could create cleaning products at home to ensure they don’t contain PFAS.

Use a Water Filter

You can take steps to reduce your PFAS exposure at home, but municipal water supplies can return them. One way to protect your water is to use an activated carbon or reverse osmosis water filter. These options are safe and effective methods to clean your water. Reverse osmosis uses pressure to remove contaminants, and activated carbon removes chemicals from the water.

Helping Your Body and the Environment

In the 2020s, health has become a more significant concern for many. People have become more conscious of what they put inside their bodies and emit into the air. One way to help the environment is by learning more about PFAS and making small swaps to avoid them.

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