PFAS are also known as Forever chemicals as they are difficult to excrete from the body and have no study on how to destroy or remove them.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are chemicals that are used in industry and consumer products used to prevent corrosion and reduce friction, stain-resistant, a water-proofing agent like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, firefighting foam, etc.
PFAS molecule contains a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atom which gives them strengthening properties making them non-degradable. PFAS is widely used in manufacturing industries because of its waterproof, non-stick properties such as those mentioned below.
Non-stick cookwares: Teflon-coated utensils.
Stain-resistant carpets, furniture, and rugs.
Aerospace, automobiles, outdoor gear, and medical equipment because of water repellant properties.
Food packaging like wrappers, packaged food containers, and microwave utensils like popcorn bags.
Food like fish from contaminated water, and dairy products from animals drinking from contaminated water.
Fire extinguisher foam is used to extinguish liquid-based fire used at airports, Refineries, fire fitting training, and military camps.
Products like shampoo, cosmetics, and dental floss.
Fertilizers used in agriculture can affect groundwater, plants, and animals grazing on it.
Water bodies near factories using PFAS can contaminate seas, and lakes, and drinking water can affect fish and animals.
How Does It Metabolize in the Body?
Different types of PFAS commonly found are perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, perfluorooctanoic sulfonic acid or PFOS, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) have found it to be harmful.
PFAS are water-soluble chemicals and have a strength of binding to protein molecules, and can enter blood serum, liver, and kidney. Longer carbon chains in PFAS have a higher toxicity rate comparatively. Short-chain PFAS bioaccumulates less and is present on surface water. It takes several days for short-chain PFAS to excrete, while longer chains take several years to excrete. PFAS can transmit through the placenta and breastmilk.
PFAS can be transmitted by inhaling, swallowing, getting into the skin, and drinking water contaminated with PFAS is the largest source of transmission.
Mentioned below are a few ways that PFAS may be transmitted.
Water can be contaminated with PFAS and PFOA as a result of industrial waste dumping. Drinking contaminated water, and having fish from contaminated water can transmit to humans and fishes.
Eating packaged foods that contain PFAS or crops grown on soil contaminated with it can be transmitted through food or eating fruits and vegetables without washing can also transmit PFAS.
Using water repellent clothes, stain-resistant fabrics containing it can transmit through the skin.
The use of cosmetics containing PFAS could be inhaled accidentally or can transmit through the skin.
Breathing air that is contaminated with it.
Occupational hazard- working in renovation business like putting carpet, painting, in chemical industries using PFAS.
PFAS can transmit through air, food, and water gradually accumulating and remaining in the body, the process of excretion is slow, it takes months and years sometimes. The accumulation of it can be toxic for the body. The toxicity of PFAS is still under research, but many studies have shown symptoms and signs as follows.
Confusion and disorientation.
PFAS is accumulated in plasma; it can enter enterohepatic circulation, and is poorly excreted through the kidney. Studies have found PFAS in blood, urine, and breastmilk. Excretion pathways of PFAS are mentioned as follows.
Can be excreted through urine.
PFAS passes through breast milk and can leave the body.
Leaves the body through menstrual blood in females.
It can leave the body through blood donation.
PFAS are difficult to dispose of and destroy because of the strong chemical bond. Researchers are working on ways to manage water treatment and ways to incinerate PFAS from contaminated areas.
Boiling water will increase the concentration of PFAS.
Activated charcoal or reverse osmosis helps in water treatment to reduce the PFAS concentration.
Drink bottled water from a licensed water source. The use of a licensed water bottle for baby formula milk is a good option, as using tap water will have an impact on their developmental growth.
As per the research exposure to PFAS has led to many harmful effects on living beings. PFAS can have an impact on the endocrine (hormonal) system affecting fertility, thyroid, and mammary gland.
Interfere with the reproductive system targeting ovaries through the blood follicle barrier leading to irregular menstruation, late menarche, early menopause, and reduces estrogen level and development of a fetus.
It affects the immune system of children, developmental defects like accelerated puberty and studies have reported a weaker response to vaccines.
It promotes the growth of malignant cells causing cancer.
It can enter the central nervous system inducing behavioral and cognitive disease. PFAS can enter the brain in various ways, namely-
PFAS can enter and accumulate in the brain through blood-brain barrier (BBB) and can be distributed to the brain stem, hypothalamus, thalamus, pons/medulla.
PFAS can be transmitted through calcium channels and neurotransmitters present in the brain cells.
Increases cholesterol level.
Changes in liver enzymes.
PFAS compounds are synthetic chemicals that affect biological activity by changing DNA structure and weakening the immune system, they have been used for decades and have shown carcinogenic properties.
The risk of renal cell carcinoma is higher in people working in PFAS producing chemical factories or residing near them.
Testicular and prostate cancer were documented by researchers showing an increased risk of cancer in military sites using firefighting foam.
Endometrial and ovarian cancer were found by researchers to show elevated levels of serum PFAS and PFAO in these cases.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and thyroid cancer has also shown elevated levels of PFAS.
Studies have shown that a small amount of PFAS is transmitted into the body through some daily activities like bathing, washing dishes, cooking food, etc., so these activities are unavoidable. The government of health advisory should make some strict laws to treat the water bodies regularly.
Avoid non-stick cookware, and packaged food containing PFAS.
Check for labels while purchasing garments for PFAS or PFC.
Avoid PFAS and PTFE, fluoro, and perfluoro composition in all cosmetics like makeup, nail polish, creams, and moisturizers.
Government should ban products containing all derivatives of PFAS.
Awareness about the toxicity of PFAS.
Stopping the use of chemicals and fertilizer containing them in agriculture.
Avoid the use of teflon-coated vessels for cooking and storing food. If at all you choose to use them, discard them when non-stick coating shows signs of deterioration.
What Are Regulators Doing About PFAS?
Researchers are studying the effects and toxicity of PFAS on animal and human life. Several programs are taking place to control, restrict and ban the use by various organizations like state and federal regulators focusing on PFAA and precursor compounds. Also focuses on the regulation of drinking water or groundwater that contains PFOA and PFOS.
Restriction on use of firefighting foam law has been put so that the water sources are not contaminated.
FDA testing, analysis, research, and development are taking place on food supply, water bodies, and industries.
FDA has authorized the use of certain PFAS for the use of cookware, packaging, and water repellent.
PFAS has many useful properties but they are toxic chemicals and have many ill effects on the human body. The toxicity of living creatures and ways of removing PFAS from water bodies are still under research but the data found is sufficient that the use of PFAS must be stopped and necessary action should be taken on restricted usage with a warning sign of PFAS containing products.
Last reviewed at:
13 Sep 2022 - 6 min read
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