PFAS – the everywhere, ‘forever chemicals’
PFAS present a serious concern to our health, so a new study which identifies breast milk as the primary source of exposure to PFAS in infants is deeply concerning. Researchers examined samples of breast milk from 1151 lactating mothers in 20 cities across China and analysed them using mass spectrometry. Nine different types of PFAS were detected in breast milk samples. This suggests potential health risks to infants from post-natal exposure to PFAS, and a terrible dilemma for parents.
PFAS are widely linked to cancer, reproductive health, lower fertility and sperm count, low birth weight, and child development issues.
Rising obesity rates – is there a link with PFAS?
The World Obesity Atlas 2023 highlights that by 2035 more than 4 billion people, 25% of the world’s population could become obese. It’s predicted that 50% of the world’s population could also become overweight by 2035, a rise from 38% in 2020.
PFAS is one of the possible factors in driving this rise. They are known as ‘obesogens’ because they can interfere with healthy body weight regulation and slowing down metabolism, especially in women as found by a Harvard School of Public Health study.
What are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS are a group of thousands of chemical substances widely used across the world. They are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because their chemical bonds are hard to break down and they persist forever.
PFAS can be found in urine, blood, and breast milk. PFAS are detectable in our rivers and have been detected in 17,000 sites across the UK and Europe. PFAS are found in drinking water, and are widely used in thousands of everyday products including food packaging, cosmetics, textiles, paints, and it’s even been detected in wastewater contaminated by toilet tissue.
Can PFAS be avoided?
It’s almost impossible to avoid, but you can steer clear of products where they are used in production processes, such as cosmetics and plastic food and drink containers. Removing all plastic packaging from foods before heating is recommended. It’s also worth swapping non-stick pans and cookware for stainless steel, glass, or cast iron to ensure they are PFAS free.
Filtering water is also advisable, but not all water filters can remove synthetic chemicals. Choose a system that uses reverse osmosis or activated carbon, they have been shown to remove PFAS from water supplies more effectively.
Sports and waterproof clothing are also a potential source of PFAS exposure where they are used to add stain and water resistance. If possible, avoid direct skin contact and wear an organic cotton under layer.
To help your body to expel synthetic chemicals, a healthy organic diet and regular exercise that raises your heart rate could both help the liver to detox more efficiently and remove harmful chemicals from your body.
Phasing out PFAS
The European Chemicals Agency announced its Universal PFAS Restrictions in February 2023, including a road map towards a total ban on PFAS. The UK government is lagging; only two substances are banned, PFOA and PFOS.
Apple have committed to phasing out PFAS but no timescales have been set. 3M have committed to phasing out PFAS by 2025.
Information for companies on how to phase out PFAS