Long-lasting manmade chemicals known as PFAS, which stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have become so prevalent that they are now found in the blood of humans and animals all over the world.
The widespread substances, often called “forever chemicals,” are turning up in the air we breathe, the soil that grows our food, and the water we drink.
What are PFAS?
Appearing in everyday products worldwide since the 1940s, PFAS continue to be widely used in items designed to resist heat, oil, or water, including clothing, furniture, food packaging, nonstick cookware, insulation, adhesives, and more.
Linda Birnbaum, a former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, explained, “These chemicals are in all of us — everyone — and they’re everywhere.”
Because they are slow to break down, PFAS build up and remain in the body and environment for unknown lengths of time.
Why is everyone talking about PFAS?
Exposure to PFAS poses significant risks to human health. According to the CDC, research suggests that high levels of certain PFAS in humans may contribute to increased cholesterol, high blood pressure, and kidney or testicular cancer, as well as decreased vaccine response in children and developmental effects such as lower IQ scores and slight decreases in birth weights.
Because there are thousands of types of PFAS, scientists are still learning about the harmful effects of these chemicals on people, animals, and the environment.
How do I know if PFAS are in my drinking water?
CNN reports that nearly half of the tap water in the U.S. is contaminated with PFAS. Water sources near urban areas or manufacturing sites that produce PFAS have the highest levels of contamination, with similar concentrations in private wells and public water supplies.
It is possible to take steps to reduce exposure to PFAS through your drinking water by contacting your local water utility to ask if they test the water for PFAS.
You can also test private well water yourself with EPA-developed methods. Once you have the results, use online tools to determine your risk. Certain in-home water treatment options, such as carbon filters, may lower the levels of PFAS in the water, too.
What can be done about PFAS?
The primary source of human exposure to PFAS is through what we eat and drink. While individuals can take action to protect themselves at home, critics have said companies and agencies must also step up to address the problem.
In March 2023, the EPA proposed the country’s first national drinking water standards for PFAS that would force water utilities to detect and reduce PFAS. Learning about PFAS and taking actionable steps in your home and environment can limit your exposure to forever chemicals.
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