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PFAS in the News – and in Our Bodies

PFAS in the News – and in Our Bodies
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Not only are we finding new sources of PFAS contamination and exposure, we’re learning more about the negative health effects of these ubiquitous so-called “forever chemicals.” The government and its agencies need to wake up and ban these chemicals outright – before it’s too late. Action Alert!

Recently, ANH-USA released the results of our own testing that found 7 of 8 kale samples to be contaminated with one or more PFAS “forever chemicals.” PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of over 12,000 compounds that are ubiquitous in the environment, accumulate in the human body, and have been linked to a wide range of negative health effects, from metabolic disturbances linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, immune system suppression, certain cancers, liver damage, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia, through to birth and developmental defects. Based on all the available evidence, we’ve called on the government to issue a ban on these chemicals, as an entire group, as soon as possible.

Since releasing our findings, even more research has come out giving us a clearer, yet grimmer, picture of the overall problem and extent of PFAS contamination. Following is just a sample of some of the recent stories that have come out underscoring the pressing need for a ban on these incredibly persistent and dangerous organofluorine chemicals.

EPA links PFAS exposure to impaired immunity and thyroid issues

A Toxicological Review prepared by EPA scientists concludes that exposure to even small amounts of one PFAS chemical, perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), impairs thyroid function and children’s immune systems. But fear not! According to the EPA, all you need to do is ingest less than 0.0000000004 PFHxS milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg-day) to avoid these negative health effects. Let’s then ignore the fact that there are over 160 PFAS chemicals in widespread industrial usage, and it is our total daily, chronic exposure to all PFAS chemicals that ultimately determines health impacts.

As we discussed in our pilot study report, PFAS are everywhere. They’re in our drinking water, many consumer products, in the air, and in our food and food packaging. Of additional concern is that these chemicals accumulate in the body.

All of this makes the EPA’s reference level of 0.0000000004 mg/kg bw/day for a single PFAS chemical little more than a bad joke. The EPA safety threshold – put another way – equates to a minuscule 0.000004 nanograms of PFHxS per day for an average, 165 pound American. If we assume the same biological effect of all PFAS chemicals, and use the average contamination we found in kale samples in our pilot study (= 135 nanograms per kg), this threshold is achieved by eating just 37 milligrams of kale. This is a tiny fraction (about one five hundredths) of a single portion (1 cup). Due to the ubiquitous nature of PFAS chemicals in our world and in our bodies (over 98 percent of us have PFAS in our blood) it is nearly impossible for us to avoid low-dose, chronic exposures with so many different PFAS being used in so many different industrial and consumer products. The EPA, whether it means to or not, is providing ever more persuasive evidence for why we need a total ban. Yet it seemingly refuses to pursue a ban, allowing industry to simply substitute well studied and proven harmful PFAS, with less studied, likely just as harmful PFAS.

US Geological Survey: At least 45 percent of tap water has one or more PFAS

Scientists from the US Geological Survey tested water collected directly from taps, providing the most comprehensive study to date on PFAS in tap water from both private wells and public supplies. The study found that at least one type of PFAS could be present in nearly half of the tap water in the U.S. Furthermore, PFAS concentrations were similar between public supplies and private wells.

The problem is likely much worse because only a subset of the thousands of PFAS chemicals are actually monitored. A study of tap water in five US cities found that less than half of the total organic fluorine measured in the water was accounted for by the sum of the individually identified PFAS. This means that there were far more PFAS in the water than the analysis could even identify.

PFAS exposure and pregnancy complications

A recent study found that exposure to PFAS and other chemicals used to make plastic increases the risk of pregnancy-related health conditions like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and pregnancy hypertension.

Pass the (PFAS) butter

A new report found the wrappers in 8 brands of butter had detectable levels of fluorine, an indicator of the presence of PFAS. This is concerning but not all that surprising, as one of the main uses of PFAS in consumer goods is to provide water- and oil-proofing to food packages and wrappers. PFAS are already known to be in food packaging such as pizza boxes, fast food and sandwich wrappers, French fry containers, and popcorn bags. Their presence in butter wrappers is yet another indication of how these chemicals permeate so many facets of our lives, making them all the more difficult to avoid.

PFAS in paint

Recent testing has also found indicators of PFAS in nearly 50 types of architectural paint—that is, paint that we buy at local hardware store to paint our houses, schools, and workplaces. In 2021, the volume of architectural paint in the United States totaled nearly 870 million gallons, and in 2023, it will surpass almost 1.4 billion gallons. Human exposure to PFAS in paint can occur during the painting process and after surfaces have been painted. The PFAS used in paints are often volatile and could make their way into the air we breathe, meaning that PFAS in paint could represent another major route of exposure.

Major court settlement

In late June, the chemical company 3M reached a $10.3 billion settlement with U.S. cities and towns over their claims that the company contaminated drinking water with PFAS. The company said it would pay out the money over 13 years to any cities or counties across the country to test for and clean up PFAS in public water supplies—but the company did not admit any liability. Earlier, three other companies — DuPont de Nemours Inc. and spinoffs Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc. — reached a $1.18 billion deal to resolve PFAS complaints by about 300 drinking water providers.

In our view, these companies are getting off far too easily—and 22 attorneys general agree with us, telling a federal court to reject 3M’s settlement. These settlements are meant to go towards cleaning up water—but what about the damage to the health of millions of Americans, not to mention the environment, that has been caused and will be caused by exposure to these chemicals? Where are the stipulations that these companies cannot continue to manufacture new PFAS?

As our pilot study and the accompanying report have already demonstrated, there is ample evidence for the government to pursue a ban on PFAS as was proposed in the European Union earlier this year. Each day, it seems, we learn more about the negative health conditions with which PFAS exposures are linked or new sources of human exposure to these chemicals. Put simply, the more we learn, the worse it gets. This underscores the reason that Congress must act NOW to ban these dangerous and destructive chemicals.

Action Alert! PFAS contamination of our bodies and our environment is fast emerging as the biggest chemical contamination issue of our era, one that’s likely intertwined with some of our biggest disease burdens. Write to Congress now and urge your representatives to ban PFAS chemicals outright. Please don’t delay sending your message.

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