Exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances can stunt growth, diminish cognitive function, and facilitate the growth of cancerous cells within the body. These chemicals can be ingested or inhaled and it is difficult to remove them from within the human body. As such, they are referred to as “forever chemicals” that can affect exposed individuals throughout their lives.
The Scope of the Problem
Studies conducted by the EPA estimate that over 110 million Americans have been exposed to these toxins and that more than 1,500 drinking water systems in the United States are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. CDC estimates show that as much as 98% of the US population has PFAS chemicals within their bloodstream. This makes the size and scope of the problem a national health emergency. Unfortunately, it’s an emergency that is receiving little attention from regulators responsible for protecting the public from known health threats.
Use of PFAS and PFOA Chemicals
PFAS are in widespread use in water systems due to their ability to repel oil and water. They are also commonly found in nonstick products including Teflon, wood stains, and paints. Many food packaging products also contain PFAS chemicals. Thus, their use within such a diverse stream of commonly used materials makes it difficult to avoid PFAS exposure. Moreover, their common application means that the general public is at significant risk of multiple exposures that can lead to rapid buildup of PFAS chemicals within the bloodstream and tissues of those affected.
Exposure to PFAS
PFAS exposure can occur through ingestion or respiration. Once inside the body, the toxin can lead to thyroid problems, suppress hormones, facilitate cancerous growths, and lead to high cholesterol. At greatest risk are the kidneys and liver where these chemicals tend to settle. Those who have undeveloped or diminished immune systems are at greatest risk of experiencing an onset of symptoms.
Limited Action, Insignificant Results
The EPA has issued a limited health advisory in regard to PFAS and PFOA chemicals. As such, manufacturers can voluntarily choose to remove these chemicals from their products. The overall number of manufacturers and government agencies that continue to use PFAS or PFOA chemicals, however, remains alarmingly high. As a result, a simple trip to the grocery store, a long shower, or boiling a pot of pasta may put people at risk for exposure.