Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of persistent chemical pollutants that have gained attention due to their potential health impacts. PFAS exposure occurs through various sources, including consumer products like waterproof and nonstick items, household cleaners, clothes, dental floss, in food and food packaging, in 45% of our water supply and more. In recent years, concerns about PFAS exposure and its harms have come to the forefront.
In the United States, the dangers of PFAS exposure were highlighted by a lawsuit involving a DuPont factory in West Virginia, which dumped PFAS waste into the environment, contaminating drinking water and air. The subsequent study revealed a “probable link” between a specific PFAS variant and health issues like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. Research conducted by scientists such as Grandjean and Weihe has shown that PFAS can interfere with immune responses, potentially reducing the effectiveness of routine vaccinations. However, broader concerns arise due to the numerous health conditions associated with PFAS exposure, including endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, liver disease, asthma, infertility, and neurobehavioral problems.
Despite the widespread presence of PFAS and their potential health risks, many individuals, including medical professionals, remain unaware or unconcerned about the issue. The complexity of PFAS-related health problems, coupled with their prevalence in everyday products, makes it paramount to address this issue now. In fact, a report published in The Lancet in 2022 estimated that nine million people die each year from chronic diseases caused by environmental toxins. The connection between environmental exposures and chronic diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and recognition of the role of pollutants like PFAS in disease development.
To address the challenges posed by PFAS exposure, it is essential to raise awareness about their potential harms and promote strategies to reduce contact with these chemicals. Researchers continue to investigate the long-term impacts of PFAS on human health, particularly as exposed individuals transition from childhood to adulthood. Could PFAS chemicals be partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiple cancers in people under 50, and especially between 30-39? By understanding the breadth of health conditions associated with PFAS and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, individuals and communities can work towards better overall health and well-being.
To lower our exposure to PFAS and protect our health, here are three things we can do:
By being aware of PFAS and taking these steps, we can minimize our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and promote better health for ourselves and our families.