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PFAS Contamination is Worse Than You Thought

PFAS Contamination is Worse Than You Thought
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“Forever chemicals” are added to many consumer products intentionally…but we’re learning that many more products are contaminated with PFAS unintentionally, making the threat to human health even more severe. Action Alert!

For months now, we’ve been reporting on the dangers of PFAS chemicals, nicknamed “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment and the human body. We know that PFAS contaminates our drinking water and they are added to many consumer products to make them grease, stain, or water resistant; they are also added to cosmetics for consistency and texture. These exposures are bad enough, but now we’re learning that many more products are contaminated with PFAS and we would never know, because the manufacturers themselves don’t even know. This incidental, unintentional contamination with PFAS is yet another way we are exposed to these chemicals that accumulate in the body and make us sick—and the EPA’s response is to protect the chemical industry.

Unintentional PFAS contamination can happen during manufacturing in a number of ways. Coatings and lubricants used in factories con contain PFAS, which are then transferred onto the products made in that facility. PFAS are used in slip agents—substances used to help mass-produced products slide easily out of molds—and can leach onto those products too. When plastic products are made, plastic pellets are melted and extruded through a nozzle into a mold. To prevent plastic from drying inside the nozzle, PFAS-containing substances are added to the nozzle, meaning many plastic goods are likely contaminated. Manufacturers may unknowingly use raw materials contaminated with PFAS because they are purchased through intermediaries who may promise their materials are PFAS-free when they’re not. PFAS used in personal protective equipment for workers in a facility can also contaminate the products made in that plant.

It’s not just manufactured products where unintentional contamination can occur. The US Department of Agriculture found unintentional PFAS contamination of cattle in New Mexico that were accidentally exposed to PFAS-containing water. Remember, PFAS bioaccumulates in mammals, so the meat we eat and feed our families could also contain PFAS. PFAS can also contaminate food packaging. Because PFAS are so persistent, they accumulate in recycled paper or wood pulp. One study tested 400 food containers and found 40 percent contained PFAS.

The levels we are exposed to from any food package or manufactured product will be small, but the danger is in the cumulative effect of all the different exposures, both known and unknown. The bioaccumulation of PFAS in the body mean that even low exposures are concerning. PFAS are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormones. A small change in hormone concentration—the equivalent of one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools—is enough to have an effect on the human endocrine system, which impacts growth, metabolism, sleep, and other important bodily functions. Disruptions to our hormone system can lead to changes that cause disease and even death.

PFAS are linked to many other health problems, including: kidney and testicular cancer, liver and thyroid problems, reproductive problems, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, low birth weight, increased risk of birth defects, and impaired immune function.

Low-income communities and communities of color are at particular risk, since these communities are more likely to be located near PFAS contamination sites.

The EPA is doing next to nothing to protect consumers. PFAS are largely unregulated in the US. Most regulatory actions focus on gathering more data, monitoring, and testing drinking water sources. A proposed rule would require manufacturers of PFAS to report on their uses. We reported recently that the agency has adopted a “working definition” of PFAS that excludes thousands of chemicals from the PFAS classification, which will make it harder to apply safety standards to these compounds and for polluters to be held accountable in the courts.

As a result of the pervasive use of PFAS in consumer, military and industrial products, there is now widespread contamination of PFAS in our water, air, food and soil across the world. Meanwhile, our government permits the continued use of these chemicals in spite of their extreme toxicity, and turns a blind eye towards thousands of dangerous PFAS compounds. This is completely unacceptable.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and the EPA, telling them to ban PFAS chemicals. Please send your message immediately.

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