Breaking Down Toxic PFAS - Tradewinds Water Filtration

Breaking Down Toxic PFAS

Toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS are linked to several harmful health impacts and have contaminated drinking water sources across the country. PFAS are in everyday products like waterproof jackets, food packaging, and nonstick pans.

Here’s a breakdown of what PFAS are, why they’re harmful, and what we can do to protect ourselves from them. (Download the PDF fact sheet on PFAS.)

“PFAS” is short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. This class of more than 12,000 chemicals is found in products like food packaging and carpets to repel water, grease, and stains. They’re also in firefighting foam used on military bases and commercial airports. Even personal care products like waterproof mascaras, eyeliners, sunscreen, shampoo, and shaving cream can contain PFAS.

PFAS don't easily break down and can persist in your body and the environment for decades. Today, more than 97% of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What do we know about the harms associated with PFAS?

Chemical manufacturers like DuPont and 3M have covered up evidence of the dangerous human health and environmental impacts of PFAS since the 1960s.

But today, overwhelming research links PFAS to a wide range of health problems. Studies of the most-researched PFAS, called PFOA and PFOS, show links to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as endocrine disruption and immune system suppression — including reduced effectiveness of vaccines in children. Scientists have also discovered unusual clusters of serious medical effects in communities with heavily PFAS-contaminated water, many of which are near manufacturing facilities and military bases.

Although U.S. manufacturers have largely phased out production of PFOA and PFOS due to their high toxicity, imported products, products entering the waste stream, and PFAS previously released into our environment still expose us to the toxic chemicals. Moreover, against the advice of more than 200 international scientists, chemical companies are replacing older PFAS with other chemicals in the PFAS family. Unfortunately, these replacement PFAS, such as GenX, act a lot like older PFAS, and studies show that they can present similar hazards.

How am I exposed to PFAS?

Drinking water is one of the most significant pathways of PFAS exposure. PFAS have contaminated the tap water of at least 200 million people in 33 states and Puerto Rico, as well as groundwater in at least 38 states. According to one senior CDC official, PFAS contamination in U.S. drinking water will present “one of the most seminal public health challenges for the next decades.”

PFAS contaminates water supplies through two primary sources: firefighting foam and industrial releases. For decades, the U.S. military has used firefighting foam containing PFAS in training exercises at hundreds of bases nationwide.

The industrial release of PFAS is another major source of water and air contamination. For example, in 2013, researchers discovered troubling levels of GenX and other PFAS in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. The source is a chemical manufacturing plant owned by The Chemours Company, a spin-off of DuPont. In New Hampshire and elsewhere, communities are also struggling with industrial releases of PFAS into the air.

PFAS can also accumulate in the human body by consuming contaminated food. For example, a study in 2017 found PFAS in one-third of all fast food wrappers, where it can migrate into greasy foods. Environmental contamination also leads to dangerously high levels of PFAS in certain foods, such as freshwater fish.


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