Why PFAS are Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ and How to Avoid Them

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of toxic chemicals used in manufacturing and on everyday household items that have recently been linked to a variety of health concerns. Due to their widespread use for decades prior to evaluating their safety, they are now found in elevated levels in food, water, air, and even in the human body. PFAS can affect hormones, reproductive health, the liver, and gut microbiome. They are also known to be carcinogenic. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your exposure to PFAS, though eliminating them from the environment may not be so simple. Let's learn why these substances are called "forever chemicals" and the most common places where they're often hiding in your daily life.What are PFAS and why are they called forever chemicals? Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a family of approximately 5,000 synthetic chemicals whose common use is to make countless everyday products water-, grease, and stain-resistant since the 1950s. Because they're so versatile, PFAS are widely used in cookware, food packaging, household furnishings, clothing, and even toiletries like dental floss. The problem with this widespread use is that exposure to PFAS is linked to serious health problems, including cancer, liver disease, immunotoxicity, birth defects, and others. Their resistance to breakdown in the natural environment resulted in the nickname "forever chemicals". And new data show they've made their way into foods and drinking water, now detected in 455 California drinking water sources thus far. Virtually all Americans have PFAS in their bodies (1).  Did you know you can evaluate your natural detoxification capacity? Find out how your detox pathways are handling toxins and metabolic waste by contacting us today. PFAS are linked to cancer, reproductive harm Early versions of these chemicals, known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are linked to cancer, high cholesterol, birth defects, immune system dysfunction, and other serious health effects. They're also considered harmful at low parts per trillion, which is another concern (2). While these two older chemicals have been voluntarily phased out by most manufacturers, their resistance to breakdown means they remain in water supplies, soil, food, and air for decades. And though some versions of PFAS aren't used anymore, scientists suspect that newer formulations of PFAS are toxic and equally persistent in the environment. Because PFAS chemicals don't break down over time, even if we stopped all use of them today, they would still be present in our environment for generations. Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to (3): Testicular and kidney cancer Weakened vaccine response Low birth weight Endocrine disruption Pre-eclampsia Increased cholesterol Thyroid disease Exposures to some PFAS in utero are associated with adverse outcomes for both mother and baby, such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP), including preeclampsia, and low birth weight (4). Read: Understanding the Link Between Toxic Burden & Immune Health The most common places you encounter PFAS The highest proportion of PFAS exposure usually comes from food and drink, and the following: Fish and shellfish raised in waters contaminated with PFAS. Coating the inside of food packaging like microwave popcorn, fast food containers, and pizza boxes. Water sources, including public water and well water systems Contaminated soil In a study of 41 Norwegian women, researchers found that food is typically the dominant exposure pathway, although the indoor environment (dust, air) could account for up to about 50% of the total PFAS intake (5).  Related: How Toxins Affect Your Weight & How to Improve Detox Does the dose make the poison? Some food additives and other preservatives are generally recognized as safe at low concentrations. PFAS however, doesn't appear to fit into this same category. The EPA now warns that PFOA and PFOS are harmful to human health even at levels that are nearly undetectable (6). Troublingly, exposure varies greatly from region to region, with some areas dealing with levels in their water supply that at one point exceeded 1,500 ppt (7). Findings indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero.  In a press release on June 15th, 2022, the EPA released updated advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS, which are 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively. This is much lower than the EPA's initial recommendation of 70 ppt for both in 2016 (8). Shop Integrative Detox Solutions, like Metagenics Clear Change.  PFAS-contaminated drinking water is a significant source of exposure Drinking water has been identified as a substantial source of PFAS exposure for many populations, particularly those living near contaminated sites. Like the town of Chincoteague, Virginia, which was the site of extensive fire training operations i

Why PFAS are Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ and How to Avoid Them

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of toxic chemicals used in manufacturing and on everyday household items that have recently been linked to a variety of health concerns. Due to their widespread use for decades prior to evaluating their safety, they are now found in elevated levels in food, water, air, and even in the human body. PFAS can affect hormones, reproductive health, the liver, and gut microbiome. They are also known to be carcinogenic. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your exposure to PFAS, though eliminating them from the environment may not be so simple. Let's learn why these substances are called "forever chemicals" and the most common places where they're often hiding in your daily life.

What are PFAS and why are they called forever chemicals?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a family of approximately 5,000 synthetic chemicals whose common use is to make countless everyday products water-, grease, and stain-resistant since the 1950s. Because they're so versatile, PFAS are widely used in cookware, food packaging, household furnishings, clothing, and even toiletries like dental floss.

The problem with this widespread use is that exposure to PFAS is linked to serious health problems, including cancer, liver disease, immunotoxicity, birth defects, and others.

Their resistance to breakdown in the natural environment resulted in the nickname "forever chemicals". And new data show they've made their way into foods and drinking water, now detected in 455 California drinking water sources thus far. Virtually all Americans have PFAS in their bodies (1). 

Did you know you can evaluate your natural detoxification capacity? Find out how your detox pathways are handling toxins and metabolic waste by contacting us today.

PFAS are linked to cancer, reproductive harm

Early versions of these chemicals, known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are linked to cancer, high cholesterol, birth defects, immune system dysfunction, and other serious health effects. They're also considered harmful at low parts per trillion, which is another concern (2).

While these two older chemicals have been voluntarily phased out by most manufacturers, their resistance to breakdown means they remain in water supplies, soil, food, and air for decades. And though some versions of PFAS aren't used anymore, scientists suspect that newer formulations of PFAS are toxic and equally persistent in the environment.

Because PFAS chemicals don't break down over time, even if we stopped all use of them today, they would still be present in our environment for generations.

Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to (3):

  • Testicular and kidney cancer
  • Weakened vaccine response
  • Low birth weight
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Thyroid disease

Exposures to some PFAS in utero are associated with adverse outcomes for both mother and baby, such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP), including preeclampsia, and low birth weight (4).

 

The most common places you encounter PFAS

The highest proportion of PFAS exposure usually comes from food and drink, and the following:

  • Fish and shellfish raised in waters contaminated with PFAS.
  • Coating the inside of food packaging like microwave popcorn, fast food containers, and pizza boxes.
  • Water sources, including public water and well water systems
  • Contaminated soil

In a study of 41 Norwegian women, researchers found that food is typically the dominant exposure pathway, although the indoor environment (dust, air) could account for up to about 50% of the total PFAS intake (5). 

 

Does the dose make the poison?

Some food additives and other preservatives are generally recognized as safe at low concentrations. PFAS however, doesn't appear to fit into this same category. The EPA now warns that PFOA and PFOS are harmful to human health even at levels that are nearly undetectable (6).

Troublingly, exposure varies greatly from region to region, with some areas dealing with levels in their water supply that at one point exceeded 1,500 ppt (7). Findings indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero. 

In a press release on June 15th, 2022, the EPA released updated advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS, which are 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively. This is much lower than the EPA's initial recommendation of 70 ppt for both in 2016 (8).

 

PFAS-contaminated drinking water is a significant source of exposure

Drinking water has been identified as a substantial source of PFAS exposure for many populations, particularly those living near contaminated sites.

Like the town of Chincoteague, Virginia, which was the site of extensive fire training operations in the late 1970's and into the 80s, in which materials used contained high levels of PFAS. These compounds ultimately contaminated much of the groundwater (9). 

 

Can PFAS be removed from drinking water?

In the case of the town above, NASA installed a groundwater treatment system using granular activated carbon (GAC), a proven technology for removing PFAS.

Water filters that contain a form of granular activated carbon, or reverse osmosis are effective to reduce the levels of PFAS drinking water.

The current administration proposed a PFAS “roadmap” to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS by 2023, and take steps to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water. The roadmap sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions and commits to new policies to safeguard public health and protect the environment.