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The PFAS-Tobacco Connection

The PFAS-Tobacco Connection
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As the nation continues to focus attention on PFAS “forever chemicals,” the research is increasingly telling us that the problem is far, far worse than previously imagined. The time to act is now. Action Alert!

For some time now, we’ve been sounding the alarm about the extensive contamination of the environment with PFAS chemicals, and what that means for human health. PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of consumer products. They are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and accumulate in blood and organs. 

After decades of being relatively unknown, PFAS contamination as a public health issue arose in the early 2000s when residents of Parkersburg, WV sued DuPont for contaminating their town and wrecking their health. Since then, independent scientists and environmental health monitors have been taking a closer look at this issue. Unfortunately, it seems like the more we find out, the worse this problem gets.

ANH-USA will be shining a light on PFAS contamination in just a few weeks, when we will release our very own pilot study—so stay tuned, you won’t want to miss this report.

In the meantime, here is a roundup of PFAS news stories from just the last few weeks.

Chemical industry using Big Tobacco’s playbook

“The chemical industry used the tactics of the tobacco industry to delay public awareness of the toxicity of PFAS and, in turn, delayed regulations governing their use.” These are the conclusions of a study looking at decades of internal documents from the chemical industry proving that manufacturers of PFAS chemicals knew they were dangerous but concealed the information.

As they were hiding this information, companies lied to their own employees and the American public. A 1980 DuPont memo, for example, told employees that PFAS chemicals were “about as toxic as table salt.” Yet as early as 1961, DuPont’s chief toxicologist found that very low doses of PFAS exposure enlarged rats’ livers, recommending that PFAS be handled with “extreme care.” In 1970, a DuPont-funded lab found PFAS to be “highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested.” In the early 1980’s, a confidential internal report detailed birth defects among pregnant Teflon plant employees, but the company later said “We know of no evidence of birth defects caused by [PFAS].”

These actions to conceal the truth about PFAS toxicity have endangered countless American lives and poisoned the environment. They deliberately stalled regulatory actions against these chemicals and made sure it would be years before we fully understood their full impacts.

Astoundingly, the chemical industry is maintaining this line. In comments submitted to the EPA on the agency’s new drinking water regulations for PFAS, the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, asserted that the current evidence provides “limited support” for any causal relationship between PFAS exposure and adverse health effects. It’s clear that, like the tobacco industry, the chemical industry will defiantly defend their right to poison us to the very end.

That’s not the only link between PFAS and tobacco

We reported recently on a study finding that elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in the blood were associated with weight gain. More research is confirming this effect. Another new study has found that children whose mothers are exposed to PFAS have an increased risk of low birth weight and obesity later in life—effects that are comparable to tobacco exposure. The authors have noted that this new study is more definitive than previous research finding this link because it includes a larger sample size, greater geographic coverage, and a wider range of exposure levels.

Contamination even worse than we thought?

Federal testing of soil samples from New Hampshire found that levels of PFAS in the air and soil were much higher than previously thought. All 100 soil samples contained high levels of PFAS, and they were taken from land not near polluters.

Another study found that half of the PFAS found in drinking water samples collected in 16 states are not even monitored by the EPA. While the EPA did propose some limits on PFAS in drinking water, only a few chemicals are regulated in the proposal. This means that there will be communities that continue to be exposed to unmonitored PFAS.

Nor do the EPA’s proposed regulations take into account a major source of PFAS contamination. Researchers have found that PFAS “precursors” in firefighting foam can contaminate soil and groundwater, where they slowly transform into the substances targeted by the EPA. At some sites, these precursors can account for about half of all groundwater contamination by PFAS, but they are unregulated. Again, this all shows that the EPA is taking the scenic route when it comes to dealing with this human health and environmental catastrophe.

All of these stories underscore the pressing need to ban PFAS chemicals as a class.

Action Alert! Write to Congress, EPA, and state legislators, urging them to ban PFAS as a class to protect public health. Please send your message immediately.

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