QUESTION from Timothy, Gardiner, MA : What is currently being done at the federal and state level to outlaw PFAS (forever chemicals)?
MOM DETECTIVE ANSWER: Thank you for your important question regarding PFAS (per and poly fluoroalkyl chemicals). As you note, they are often called “forever” chemicals, due to the fact that these are manmade chemicals that have no capacity to breakdown in our bodies or the environment. PFAS chemicals live on, polluting forever!
Given what we know about PFAS, I do hope our government and industry are paying attention, taking pause, and working to curb and control their use. I can imagine a lot of people might wonder if there ever is a justification for the use of a toxic chemical? I would argue not, but admittedly, I’m a purist when it comes to harmful chemicals. In this case, there is certainly reason to regulate.
PFAS are a class of chemicals that includes more than 5,000 individual chemicals with similar properties.
Even if you can’t pronounce the chemical names, they’re likely found in your home and even in your bloodstream. Why? Because they’re commonly found in stain resistant carpets and upholstery, non-stick cookware, and even apparel. PFAS chemicals are used in sporting goods, camping gear, and rain and winter gear, as water-repellants.
These chemicals are grease-proof so they are used in food wrappings and food container linings–pizza boxes, butter wrappers, fast-food wraps, microwavable popcorn containers, and more.
This stuff is even used in coated dental floss to help it slide through your teeth. Honestly, this is a hard one for me to swallow. When you are doing what the dentist recommends for ultimate oral health and yet you are getting an inadvertent dose of PFAS directly into your bloodstream!
PFAS chemicals are also used industrially where there’s massive contamination in firefighting foam, aeronautics and aerospace materials, in automotive manufacturing, and used for military purposes. PFAS are also found in numerous common electronics.
The problem with the proliferation of PFAS chemicals is that now most drinking water, no matter where you live, is likely contaminated by them.
The NIEHS states that these chemicals are linked to possible adverse impacts on health, pregnancy, and the immune system. The chemicals have been linked to potential cognitive impact in children and neurobehavioral deficits including loss of IQ.
It’s still early in the assessments of PFAS to evaluate the all of the consequences of these chemicals, but we know enough now to take action on PFAS.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO LIMIT PFAS?
Last year, the House of Representatives passed an act that would require EPA to designate some of these substances as hazardous and begin to clean up PFAS chemicals. H.R. 2467, is known as the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and was introduced by Representative Debbie Dingell, from Michigan. This is just the start of what will be a slow process to ultimately clean up, and limit further PFAS contamination.
Regulating PFAS has been an area of increased scrutiny by both federal and state governments. Without a national requirement on PFAS regulation, each state can adopt different policies. That makes it incredibly difficult for all constituencies, but this handy chart, along with this legislative tracking resource, shows what individual states are doing.
In 2016, the EPA issued a health advisory for PFOA and PFOS contamination in water. EPA suggested a limit of no more than 70 parts per trillion in water. Currently, this limit stands as a mere suggestion for states to monitor and enact, if desired.
It’s important to learn about what’s happening in your state. For example, in Maine where the Department of the Environment is actively testing and assessing the state’s challenges with PFAS, they have been able to establish the first state law to ban the sale of PFAS chemicals. While it doesn’t take effect for years, it’s setting an example for other states, and putting companies on notice.
To find out what’s happening in your state, the Environmental Council of the States provides advisories for states.
While some states are beginning to take these actions, I would argue that our government is far too slow to act on harmful chemicals.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PFAS CHEMICALS IN YOUR HOME:
Write your elected officials at every level and let them know you want a ban on PFAS and all classes of forever chemicals. Until, or unless, we know they’re 100% safe, we shouldn’t be forced to ingest them, use them, or interact with them.
Vote with your wallet to avoid PFAS chemicals in:
- Stain-repellant furniture, rugs and household items
- Stain-resistant and waterproof clothing
- All nonstick cookware
- When using to-go containers. That paper-like material wrapping processed foods is likely coated with per fluorinated chemicals. Consider bringing glass or stainless steel food containers.
- When selecting dental floss look for natural and uncoated floss.
- Make popcorn the old-fashioned way in a pot on the stove, or use an air-popper instead of pre-packaged microwave popcorn, which are coated so it doesn’t catch on fire.