January of 2022 brought new regulations on toxic poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs). Here are the key takeaways you should know.
The Environmental Protection Agency decided in early 2022 to cut down and restrict the use of PFAs in all products. The list is lengthy, and you can expect to see these micro-toxins in everything from your groceries, cosmetics, and even drinking water. They’ve been around a long time, so what gives?
What Are PFAs?
Scientifically speaking, PFAs stand for poly-fluoroalkyl substances. Researchers describe them as “a class of chemicals that have a carbon-fluorine bond, making them extremely effective but nearly impossible to break down. PFAS are found in more than 2,300 locations across the country.”1
In simpler terms, these are the never-dying chemicals you can find in everyday household items, such as:
- Wrappers, grease-resistant packaging, and non-stick materials
- Cleaning products
- Water-resistant clothing
- Personal care products: shampoos, cosmetics, lotions
- Drinking water
- Contaminated fish
“A class of chemicals that have a carbon-fluorine bond, making them extremely effective but nearly impossible to break down. PFAS are found in more than 2,300 locations across the country.”Researchers from the Environmrntal Protection Agency
Where Did They Come From?
PFAs were invented in 1933 and gained popularity due to their ability to spread AFFF (the foam firefighters use to extinguish fires). Since then, the National Center for Biotechnology Information has revealed that over 98% of the population in the United States has traces of PFAs in their bloodstream.
According to Phillippe Grandjean, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, the research was buried for a while. “Industry-sponsored animal studies documented PFAS toxicity in 1978 but were not shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until 2000. This delay prevented the development of proper guidelines for safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water,” states Grandjean.
Why Are PFAs Dangerous?
Take a look at this comprehensive infographic produced by the European Environmental Agency.
PFAs come with a heavy load of health and environmental issues.
Health issues include:
- A 50% increase in developing kidney cancer.
- Women with higher levels of PFAs are 20% more likely to stop breastfeeding early.
- Developmental defects in children: bone variations, behavioral changes, and low birth weights.
Environmental issues include:
- Contamination of water streams.
- Contamination of fish and water dwellers.
- Pollution of ground soil for crop production.
Who is Most Affected by PFAs?
As previously clarified, most Americans have traces of PFAs in their bodies. However, people who work in places where PFAs exist in the air are most at risk for developing health complications. Inhalation is the quickest route to soak up airborne PFAs. You’ll see this concentration mostly in firefighting or industrial positions.
Sadly enough, children are walking targets for PFA contamination. As they’re constantly developing, the health risks could be more severe. Their bodies have not built up immunity to combat PFA damages.
“Industry-sponsored animal studies documented PFAS toxicity in 1978 but were not shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until 2000. This delay prevented the development of proper guidelines for safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water.”Phillippe Grandjean, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health
What’s Being Done?
Across the world, different countries have implemented bans on PFAs. For example, in the E.U., “the manufacture and use of some PFAS are already restricted under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals).”2
America is looking to follow suit by 2023 but on a smaller scale. The U.S. Navy has agreed to remove PFAs from firefighting foams in the future, but there will still be damages from the delayed removal.
The EPA speaks on regulation and pushes further measures for restrictions, but the future is still unclear.
What Can You Do?
I recommend a few steps in protecting yourself and the Earth:
- Test your water.
- Check Fish Advisories for trace levels. Do not support brands who don’t screen their products.
- Bring a container for carrying your leftover food home. You’ll reduce the need for mass manufacturing of PFA-ridden packaging.
- Stay away from non-stick.
- Read the labels.
We always want our readers to be safe and protect the planet. Clean water, a clean body, and clean Earth action is the future, but we must demand it. Get involved locally, or take it worldwide.
Help us turn this forever chemical into a never chemical.