Forever Chemicals: Why We Care About Them and Why You Should Too

Forever chemicals are found everywhere—in makeup, carpets, clothing, and drinking water. Yes, drinking water also contains these chemicals. No less than 60% of Americans, or 200 million U.S. citizens, might be exposed to forever chemicals. 

Another analysis discovered forever chemicals in many sandwich baggies. Even your waterproof lipstick and mascara have measurable levels of PFAS. 

PFAS, nicknamed forever chemicals, are concerning because they don’t disintegrate easily. Instead, they take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade. This persistent nature of PFAS threatens not only the ecosystem but also human health. 

In this article, we will highlight the reasons to stress out about PFAS exposure. 

PFAS: An Overview

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, abbreviated as PFAS, are a diverse group of man-made chemicals that have been a part of the consumer industry for decades. 

These chemicals are valued for their ability to resist water, grease, oil, and heat. These properties have led to their extensive use in an array of industrial and consumer products. These include firefighting foams, waterproof fabrics, non-stick cookware, and food packaging. 

Forever chemicals, or PFAS, have been widely used since the 1940s. But a new study reveals that they could be banned in 35 U.S. states. States are planning to phase out or restrict the use of the chemicals due to their harmful effects on human health. 

The EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) has also banned the use of forever chemicals in cosmetic products from 31 December 2026 because they are toxic at high levels. 

How does PFAS Affect Human Health? 

Research conducted in the past decade has discovered a link between PFAS exposure and adverse health outcomes. These synthetic chemicals have been tied to a range of health problems, drawing concern from policymakers, researchers, and the general public. 

The most commonly studied forever chemicals, PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, has been classified as a possible carcinogen by the IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

Studies in lab animals reveal that exposure to PFOA increases the risk of certain tumors of the testicles, liver, pancreas, and mammary glands (breasts). In humans, research suggested a link between elevated risk of kidney cancer and testicular cancer and PFOA exposure. Some studies have also suggested possible links to other cancers, such as ovarian, breast, bladder, and prostate. 

U.S. workers working in certain industries might be more exposed to forever chemicals than the general public. That increases their risk of cancer, meaning they are more likely to develop cancer than the general public. One such industry is firefighting. 

Incidences of cancer are also high among firefighters, as per new research. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death among firefighters. The chemicals released from the burning material aren’t solely responsible for causing cancer among firefighters. Their gears, along with the firefighting foam (AFFF), are also to blame. 

Turnout gear worn by firefighters to extinguish fires is treated with a type of PFAS– fluoropolymers– or side-chain fluoropolymers for the highest level of oil and water resistance. Firefighters are also exposed to PFAS through the use of fluorinated firefighting foams during firefighting and training. 

Some cancers related to exposure to PFAS-containing AFFF, TorHoerman Law remarks, are the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, liver, pancreatic, prostate, and rectal. One study, however, has found the most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. active-duty servicemen is testicular cancer. 

Firefighters all over the U.S. are filing AFFF foam cancer lawsuits against firefighting foam manufacturers for causing cancer in them. 

Several states, including Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Washington, have also sued AFFF manufacturers for contaminating their natural resources with PFAS. The City of Waco, Texas, has also joined the class action lawsuit against the makers of cancer-causing firefighting foam. Chemical giants like 3M, DuPont, and Chemours have been named in the lawsuits. 

Besides cancer, a number of studies have linked PFAS with thyroid disease, high cholesterol, asthma, allergies, liver damage, and reduced vaccine response in children. 

Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to PFAS

Eliminating PFAS from your daily life completely is impossible. However, there are several ways you can reduce your exposure to these chemicals, and they are as follows:

1. Replace non-stick cookware with cast iron or stainless steel because the latter is PFAS-free. 

2. Get a water filter installed especially if you live in an area where PFAS contamination is common. 

3. Steer clear of textiles advertised as stain or waterproof. Instead, opt for those that are formulated without PFAS. 

4. Avoid products– in particular, cosmetics, varnishes, and other household items– whose ingredients list contains “perfluor” or PTFE. 

5. Limit foods like french fries, pastries, and hamburgers that come in grease-resistant packages. 

In conclusion, the pervasive presence and potential health risks linked to forever chemicals underscore the urgency of attention and action from all sectors of society. The government is taking measures to restrict the use of or altogether phase out PFAS. Many companies are also marketing alternatives for products that contain PFAS. Opt for them to minimize your exposure to forever chemicals. 

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