PFAS: What Are They and How They Can Affect You

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that have been manufactured and used in many products since the 1940s. These chemicals are incredibly stable, break down very slowly, and can bioaccumulate in the environment, in food and livestock, in drinking water, and in humans. Ongoing and extensive research into the effects of exposure to PFAS have resulted in some peer-reviewed scientific studies that indicate a litany of adverse health effects.

In what products are PFAS most used?

PFAS are highly prevalent across the world in many products and industries. For example, PFAS have numerous and varied applications including fire fighting foams, electronics, chrome plating, textile and paper manufacture, microwave popcorn bags, candy wrappers, stain and water repellants, non-stick cookware, shampoo, dental floss, and cosmetics.

While millions of individuals come into contact with or use these items every day on even on a daily basis, exposure isn’t only limited to manufactured products.

How are we exposed to PFAS in our everyday environment?

Unsurprisingly due to the prevalence of its uses, PFAS are found in water, soil, air, and food. PFAS are found in municipal drinking water supplies, in dairy from livestock exposed to PFAS, and even in fish and shellfish. Notably, three lobsters caught in different areas of the Atlantic Ocean demonstrated high levels of PFAS. Scientists indicate that this shows the overwhelming extent to which people and the environment are exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Exposure to PFAS extends beyond contamination of our natural resources. Employment in industries such as firefighting, chemical manufacturing, and any processing featuring the use of products with PFAS yields occupational exposure. Beyond this direct exposure, PFAS are also found in drinking water, certain foods like dairy and seafood, in even in dust.

Some of the harmful health effects from PFAS exposure include reproductive effects such as decreased fertility and high blood pressure in pregnant women, developmental effects in children such as low birth weight, behavioral changes, and accelerated puberty, increased rate of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer, immunodeficiency and decreased vaccination response, increased cholesterol and obesity, and interference with the body’s natural hormones. With such extensive potential effects on the human body, knowing the requirements around using PFAS is vital for many organizations to manage and monitor PFAS compliance.

What are the requirements around using PFAS?

It is important to know that there are thousands of PFAS that can potentially lead to toxicity and health effects. The types and uses of PFAS have varied for over 80 years so tracking, monitoring, and health outcomes have proven difficult to determine, definitively. At present, the EPA continues to review PFAS for enforcement.

Two of the most commonly used PFAS (PFOA – perfluorooctanoic acid and PFOS – perfluorooctane sulfonate) have been widely replaced in the United States. The US EPA has committed to the development of a national comprehensive strategy to address PFAS exposure. In Europe, automotive manufacturers have been asked to declare any use of PFAS. This has been facilitated via the Global Automotive Declarable Substance List (GADSL). Certain companies have communicated a ban of the use of some or all PFAS to their suppliers and seek material disclosure and certification via signed statement.

As PFAS pollution begins to be addressed, preparing for and being informed of new rules, regulations, and requirements to impact the manufacturing and use of these substances is a must. Having a comprehensive material content program with the ability to determine the potential use of these emerging contaminants is the best way to currently manage and mitigate against future risks, liabilities, and to protect the health of people and the environment across the world.


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