HIGHLY FLUORINATED SUBSTANCES (PFAS)
What is it?
What are the effects?
This substance belongs to the groups:
Scientists refer differently to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Some call them highly flourinated substances (PFAS), perfluorinated chemicals (PFC), polyfluoroalkyl substances, or perfluorochemicals. We use the PFAS.
The PFAS are a group of more than 3000 manmade chemicals, including for example perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE /Teflon).
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies, for example, PFOA as “may damage the unborn child, causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure, is harmful if swallowed, causes serious eye damage, is harmful if inhaled, is suspected of causing cancer and may cause harm to breast-fed children.”
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) likens the PFC’s to the historical scandals of the environmental pollutants polyklorerade bifenyler (PCB) and diklordifenyltrikloretan (DDT) that was widely spread during previous decades.
The SSNC writes; “today we are just as reckless about PFAS. Animal experiments have already shown that very small amounts of PFAS cause clear damage to animal reproduction, cell functions, and hormone systems. In addition, PFAS substances are even more difficult to biodegrade than PCBs and DDTs – most facts points toward that many PFASs do not break down at all.”
Apart from PFAS being stored in plants, animals, and humans, the SSNC also writes that some of the PFAS are carcinogenic, can cause liver damage, affects the reproduction ability, and affects the immune system. The SSNC is also highlighting the fact that while PFAS have proven negative effects and studies have shown that they are present in the blood of most humans – only 1 PFAS is banned in the EU and thousands remain untested.
Perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) has been banned since 2008 in the EU and is still the only forbidden PFAS. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) are on the European Union’s Candidate List of “Substances of Very High Concern”.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) who are studying many of the PFAS compounds also underline their persistence. NIEHS explains that even though PFAS aren’t stored in body fat (as other persistent chemicals) it can take several years for just 50 % of the PFAS to leave the human body.
NIEHS also writes; “In animal studies, some PFAS disrupt normal endocrine activity; reduce immune function; cause adverse effects on multiple organs, including the liver and pancreas; and cause developmental problems in rodent offspring exposed in the womb. Data from some human studies suggest that PFAS may also have effects on human health, while other studies have failed to find conclusive links.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) follows the same line. The EPA is through the National Toxicology Program (NTP) studying the PFAS compounds due to concerns about their widespread exposure to humans, persistence in the environment and observed toxicity in animal models.
KEMI, Swedish Chemical Agency, also warns that PFAS degrade very slowly or not at all in nature and that many of them are bioaccumulative. PFOS accumulate and have a chronic toxic effect, disturbs reproduction, and is toxic to marine life.
How is it used?
Human and wildlife exposure to PFAS is widespread and is likely to come from PFAS-contaminated water or food or by using products that contain PFAS.
As mentioned above, more than 3000 manufactured PFAS compounds exist and new versions are continuingly entering the market. They are a large group of chemicals that are used in all kinds of everyday products to make them more resistant to water, grease, and stains. PFAS can be found in everything from food packaging to cleaning products, and clothing.
To get an idea of how widespread they are:
Cosmetic* – Found in all kinds of cosmetics, including foundations, powders, and creams to make the products stick better together and to be applied smoother and more easily to the skin. The PFAS are released and spread in the water systems when the products are rinsed off.
Take away boxes – The carton and paper used for takeaway food are often coated with PFAS to repel grease.
Functional clothing and shoes – Everything that claims to be “smell-free”, “anti-bacterial” or “water-repellent” are likely to have been impregnated by PFAS. The PFAS are released and spread when the clothes are washed or when the chemicals are rubbed off in nature.
Cookware – All non-stick cookware and pans usually contain PFAS. The most famous PFAS is Teflon.
Textiles – PFAS can be found in carpets, mattresses, tents, and couches; basically any fabrics that claim to be stain resistant.
Electronic and industrial use – as PFAS help reduce friction they are used in building and construction, automotive and in electronics.
We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.
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