How to Avoid PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, manmade chemicals known as PFAS, can have serious adverse health effects. Because PFAS are in many consumer products and can contaminate drinking water, avoiding PFAS can be challenging. Purchasing PFAS-free products and testing your drinking water can help.
What to Avoid
PFAS chemicals can be found in drinking water, food packaging, cookware, clothing and cosmetics and can be difficult to avoid. There are steps you can take to stop or limit your exposure, however. The adverse health effects of prolonged exposure to high levels of these “forever chemicals” include cancer and other serious disorders.
Environmental experts have detected PFAS contamination in drinking water from private wells and municipal water systems. Contact your local water utility for more information about PFAS testing and the quality and safety of your tap water.
Manufacturers also use PFAS in food packaging and cookware, which poses a risk of ingesting these dangerous chemicals. Carpeting, upholstery and clothing such as yoga pants have also been found to contain PFAS in significant amounts. While studies show that a limited amount of PFAS may pass through the skin into the body, many cosmetics and personal care products also contain PFAS. Looking for PFAS-free on product labels and researching PFAS-free brands can help limit chemical exposure.
Reduce Use of PFAS Cosmetics
Cosmetics are a clear source of PFAS contamination. Some PFAS get added to cosmetic products, including makeup, nail polish, lotion, cleansers and shaving creams. These PFAS additives make skin smooth-looking and improve the consistency and texture of products.
When you buy personal care products, check the labels. Try to avoid the following ingredients:
- PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)
- Perfluorononyl dimethicone
One study that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration references in the agency’s discussion of cosmetics and PFAS found many personal care products contain PFAS. While one ingredient or product might not pose a significant risk, PFAS levels can build up in the body with accumulated use of PFAS-containing products.
A growing number of brands offer PFAS-free products, with some exclusively producing product lines without these chemical ingredients. Many labels now note that the ingredients are PFAS-free.
Avoid PFAS Chemicals in Your Water
If your local utility can’t or won’t provide access to information about PFAS in public drinking water, or if you have a private well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends contacting your state to learn if it has state-certified laboratories that test for PFAS. It recommends using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-validated testing method.
Water sampling test kits cost between $250 and $500, though some states will reimburse the cost of the kit. Because so many consumer products contain PFAS, it’s important to take care while using the kit and try not to contaminate samples with gloves, lotions or packaging. Testing kits come with specific instructions.
New research shows that many household water filters are only partially effective at removing PFAS. Some systems may even increase PFAS, though results vary. One study found under-sink reverse osmosis filters to be the most efficient at removing PFAS. Boiling your water will not remove PFAS and may actually increase their concentration.
How to Avoid PFAS in Food Products
PFAS can enter your food through environmental contamination or food packaging. The FDA reviews food packaging to ensure they don’t pose risks to consumers. You can also be exposed to PFAS from cookware.
- Avoid grease-resistant packaging such as PFAS-treated microwave bags.
- Don’t reheat food in takeout containers or the product’s packaging.
- Transfer hot items such as takeout out of their containers as soon as possible.
- Use glass, stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic rather than nonstick cookware.
Some states test fish for PFAS and other chemicals and issue warnings and guidelines to residents. Experts have found PFAS in some tested fish. In 2022, the FDA made PFAS test results for imported seafood samples collected at retail stores and outlets available to consumers. The EPA also developed a national PFAS testing strategy as of 2023.
To address PFAS contamination, federal and state government regulators and PFAS manufacturers must act. California has already passed a law restricting PFAS.
What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Exposed
If you think you were exposed to PFAS, speak to your doctor. A blood test may reveal your PFAS levels, but cannot determine or predict if or how your health may be affected.
New guidelines from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine create a protocol for PFAS exposure, testing and clinical follow-up. These guidelines set out a blood level at which doctors recommend avoiding further exposure and suggest additional health screenings or assessments.
PFAS chemicals remain unchanged in the body for many years. Some may be flushed from the body, primarily through urine. Studies indicate it takes nearly four years for levels of some PFAS to decrease by half. There are no medical treatments to remove PFAS from the body.
Many PFAS lawsuits have been filed to help those exposed who have developed health issues as a result. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits seek compensation for pain, suffering and medical bills that they allege they have suffered due to PFAS contamination.
18 Cited Research Articles
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