How can parents protect their kids from PFAS, aka “forever chemicals,” especially as they head back to school? I asked Dr. Laura Anderko, RN PHD, of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Villanova University College of Nursing for some tips. Dr. Anderko is co-author of a recent NASEM report, Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-up. Here’s what she suggests:
What makes PFAS so dangerous to children?
Children are often more likely to be at risk from environmental hazards than adults. Because their bodies are still developing, they may be more sensitive to the harmful effects of chemicals like PFAS, especially during fetal development and puberty.
Children are also more likely to be exposed to chemicals than adults because they drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air per pound of body weight. Infants can be exposed to PFAS through breast milk from mothers with PFAS in their blood, and formula made with water containing PFAS. Fetuses may be exposed to PFAS in utero during pregnancy from the mother’s blood.
Are the PFAS alternatives that industry has come up with any safer to use?
Some assume that the newer, “shorter chain” PFAS chemicals, which break down more readily in the environment than the “longer chain” PFAS, will be safer. However, there is no definitive research to support those assumptions.
Are there any PFAS-like alternatives you’d recommend parents look for when they’re buying products for their homes or their kids?
So, is it simply better to choose alternative materials like glass, wool, cotton, and maybe silicone?
Generally speaking, yes. We recommend that people replace nonstick pans coated with PFAS materials with cast-iron or aluminum pots and pans (spray a light vegetable oil on the surface before cooking to make them nonstick). It is important to be an informed consumer when purchasing any products since sometimes “green” products may have hidden harms.
What general guidelines will help consumers avoid PFAS when they’re shopping?
The NASEM report cites several organizations that offer lists of products to avoid containing PFAS. Environmental Working Group (EWG) also offers some specific tips for avoiding PFAS. And we have many articles about PFAS here.
How can parents protect their kids from PFAS exposure?
First, parents should consider potential exposures from drinking water, food, consumer products, air, or soil. If you need assistance or information, especially if a parent feels a child has been highly exposed, contact an expert. The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit national network has an office serving your area.
Next, once potential exposures have been identified, prevent or reduce additional exposure as much as possible. Avoid purchasing or using products that are:
- Stain-, grease-, or water-resistant.
- List the ingredient PTFE or other “fluoro” ingredients on the label.
Parents can also:
- Check your community’s annual water report for PFAS levels. Urge your local water utility to test for PFAS if they don’t already. If you have a home drinking water well, ensure you are protecting and maintaining it.
- Filter your drinking water with an activated carbon or reverse osmosis filtration system. NSF-certified filters for PFOA/PFOS can be found here.
- Avoid takeout food packaged in grease-resistant food containers, like some pizza boxes and burger and French fry wrappers, as well as microwave popcorn.
- Check fish advisories before eating. Here’s how from the National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Protection Agency.
As the kids are now back to school, are there PFAS-free lunch boxes, backpacks, school supplies, or clothes that parents can seek out?
Use of PFAS does not need to be mentioned on the label, so it’s hard to know. A good rule of thumb: Any product listed as grease-, stain- or water-resistant most likely contains PFAS. NOTE: Some products may be advertised as PFOA- or PFOS-free but may contain other PFAS chemicals.
A recent study, titled How Well Do Product Labels Indicate the Presence of PFAS in Consumer Items Used by Children and Adolescents?, found that products with the highest levels of PFAS were clothing, including school uniforms; pillow and mattress protectors; and upholstery from children’s furniture. None of those products’ labels warned that toxic manufactured chemicals were present. In fact, many of them were advertised as nontoxic or green. Researchers also found that even if children’s stain- or water-resistant clothes are advertised as “green” or “nontoxic,” they might still contain PFAS.
Moms Clean Air Force members often talk to their elected officials about laws they can pass or steps they can take to improve the health and safety of their kids. What should Moms’ members encourage officials to do to reduce kids’ exposure to PFAS?
- Ask state legislators to set up a statewide water- and blood-testing program. Follow the lead of states like California in creating more health-protective drinking water limits.
- Ask elected officials to support restrictions on PFAS in drinking water and consumer products and remediation of contaminated sites.
- Explore EPA’s strategies for developing a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation. Participate in the federal regulatory process as EPA and other federal agencies propose actions to limit PFAS use, prevent contamination, and clean it up once it occurs.
- Learn about EPA funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to reduce PFAS in water.