What in the World is PFAS and Why Should I Care?
By Gerald Shaffer
You may have seen the headline for PFAS or forever chemicals and been left a bit confused. So was I and here is
the bad news.
PFAS chemicals are scientifically known as Fluorosurfactants such as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and have caught the attention of regulatory agencies because of their persistence, toxicity, and widespread occurrence in the blood of general populations and wildlife. In 2009,
PFOS, its salts and perfluorooctanesulfonyl fluoride were listed as pollutants.[PFAS chemicals were dubbed the "Forever Chemicals.” The Forever Chemicals name is now commonly used in media outlets in addition to the more technical name of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFASs.
It had been thought that perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) would eventually end up in the oceans, where they would be diluted over decades, but a field study published in 2021 by researchers at Stockholm University found that they are significantly transferred from water to air when waves break on land, and are a significant source of air pollution, and eventually get into rain. The researchers concluded that pollution "may impact large areas of inland Europe and other continents, in addition to coastal areas"
A majority of PFASs are either not covered by European legislation or are excluded from registration obligations under REACH (which is the European flagship chemical legislation). Several PFASs have been detected in drinking water municipal wastewater and landfill leachates, worldwide.
Dr. Phillipe Grandjean, of the Harvard School of Public Health, together with his colleagues, conducted a study in 2020 to determine whether PFAS chemicals correlated to COVID-19 outcomes. The researchers studied 323 COVID patients, and tested blood samples for 5 different types of PFAS compounds.
They observed the following:
- PFBA accumulates in the lungs.
- Patients with higher blood levels of PFBA (perfluorobutanoic acid) were associated with more severe COVID-19 infections.
- Patients with high PFBA levels in the blood were significantly more likely to be hospitalized, enter intensive care, and dying from COVID-19 than people with low PFBA levels.
Dr. Grandjean said that PFAS chemicals are immunotoxic and therefore can ‘very likely interfere with the Covid-19 infection’, and that studies involving the mechanism of PFAS affecting the immune system are ongoing. He also cautions that PFAS levels in the blood may affect the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines, but studies have not been conducted yet.
The CDC and the ATSDR are currently assessing the relationship between PFAS exposure and COVID-19. Studies are ongoing, but in the meantime, measures to minimize exposure to PFAS would be advised.
The Goods News
Their production has been regulated or phased out by manufacturers in the US, Japan, and Europe. In 2006 3M replaced PFOS and PFOA with short-chain PFASs, such as perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), perfluorobutanesulfonic acid and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). Shorter fluorosurfactants may be less prone to accumulating in mammal but there is still concern that they may be harmful to both humans, and the environment at large
What Products To Avoid for reduced PFAS Exposure
- stain-resistant carpets, rugs, and furniture;
- sprayable stain protectors;
- non-stick cookware;
- outdoor gear with a “durable water repellent” coating;
- aerospace, medical, and automotive applications; and
- many specialty items such as firefighting foams, ski wax, and industrial applications.
Who Is Making A Difference
Shaffer Foods Ecoware Food Container Lineup is PFAS free. With many awards and certificates their ecoware line is a great way to help save the world. “By replacing old school to go containers - you know the glossy ones on the inside? - with our PFAS free containers that do just as good a job but with Zero Waste…none, No PFAS. It's easy to make products better if you try”