Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries. PFAS are resistant to water, oil and heat, and their use has expanded rapidly since they were developed by companies. Industries including food, household products, drinking water, and living organisms. Most common sources are soil, water, plastic, nonstick cookware, etc.
In short, they are all around us. And as a result, they’ve found their way into the soil and, especially in some regions, into our drinking water. PFAS do not break down easily, a quality that has earned them the nickname “forever chemical.” Overtime they can accumulate in the human body.
There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. They can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.
A study from Consumer Reports (CR) found toxic levels of PFAS in several popular water brands. They tested 47 bottled waters, including 35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated ones. The tests focused on 30 PFAS chemicals and four heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Topo Chico, made by Coca-Cola and with the highest PFAS levels in CR’s tests. Most of the noncarbonated products CR tested had detectable levels of PFAS, but only two—Tourmaline Spring and Deer Park—exceeded 1 part per trillion.
There are many ways to reduce exposure to PFAS. One great way is to avoid buying fabrics treated with nonstick chemicals such as Teflon, stainmaster, and polartec. Rather, use stainless steel and cast-iron cookware. When it comes to drinking water, it may seem impossible to avoid, but there are easy ways to reduce PFAS exposure. Activated carbon filters may be effective for reducing the contaminants.
PFAS chemicals are widely used to coat paper and cardbpard wrappers for fast food and bakery goods. Cooking at home would not only be a great way to reduce PFAS but give you the opportunity to have fun with home cooked meals! To avoid PFAS, skip pre-cooked, packaged foods. Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way – on the stovetop. The inside of microwaveable popcorn bags is nearly always coated with PFAS chemicals. EWG’s 2017 report shows that nearly all major brands use PFAS-treated wrappers.
Although more research is needed to better understand the health effects PFAS have on exposure, we know that these man-made chemicals stick around in our bodies and environment with potential long term health consequences. It is important to be mindful of the products we use and food products we buy and eat.