Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

The Convenience Trade-off of Forever Chemicals

Avoiding exposure to forever chemicals can be daunting due to their widespread presence in the environment, including water and food sources.

Forever chemicals have been in the news a lot lately. Nonstick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging and waterproof clothing offer significant convenience, but this comes at a cost. These products contain PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), also known as “forever chemicals,” a class of manmade chemicals that provide water, stain and grease resistance. Unfortunately, PFAS are also highly toxic, even at extremely low levels.

“These characteristics make them popular for use in thousands of commercial products, such as non-stick pans, outdoor gear, cosmetics, food wrappers and more,” says Paul Hill, director of Environmental Health and Safety at Millersville University. “However, PFAS are long-lasting chemicals that break down over tens of thousands of years.”

PFAS are used extensively, resulting in widespread presence in humans, animals, soil, air and water. Their occurrence in water originates from various sources, including runoff from PFAS-containing soil, biological pathways, wastewater treatment, industrial processes and leaching from landfills into water reservoirs.

“PFAS can be removed from drinking water through a number of different complex processes,” says Hill. “Common treatments include reverse osmosis, microbial degradation, carbon filtration, oxidation processes and others.”

According to Hill, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins suggests that buying bottled water is not a better alternative because it found that 39 out of more than 100 bottled waters tested contained PFAS, including those labeled as “purified.” However, purified bottled water is often treated through reverse osmosis and generally contains lower levels of PFAS than bottled water labeled “spring water.”

Drinking water contaminated with PFAS at dangerous levels poses several health risks, including high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Avoiding exposure to forever chemicals can be daunting due to their widespread presence in the environment, including water and food sources. According to Hill, individuals can take steps to reduce their exposure by minimizing the use of non-stick pans, stain and water-resistant fabrics and waterproofing treatments. Additionally, opting for water filters rated for PFAS removal and choosing products labeled as PFAS-free can help mitigate the risk of exposure.

Hill suggests staying informed about PFAS sources and regulations in your area and advocating for stricter regulations and safer alternatives. Also, dispose of PFAS-containing products responsibly according to local guidelines to prevent contamination of soil and water.

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