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Forever Chemicals: How Corporations Are Forcing You to Eat Plastic Bits

And those bits could cause tremendous harm to human bodies

By Maryan PellandPublished about a month ago 5 min read
Image by Wolfgang Stemme from Pixabay

Polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS are found everywhere, including in the organs and tissues of every sentient being. You read that correctly. These forever chemicals have been building up in our world since the 1940s, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s probably time we become more seriously aware of the situation.

What are PFAS?

In general, Polyfluoroalkyl substances are chemicals used in the manufacture of practically everything. They are plastics. We know plastics take forever to break down. For those reasons, the particles are now found intact in nearly all people’s and animals’ blood.

What a comforting idea. Scientists and medical professionals are finding that exposure to at least some PFAS may cause or exacerbate harmful health effects in humans and animals. That’s you and me, your kids, and your dog.

“There’s been almost no place scientists have looked where they have not found PFAS,” said Jamie C. DeWitt, PhD a toxicologist from East Carolina University.

Exactly where are PFAS before they’re inside us?

They are in the environment. The air, water, the ground, and even on surfaces of everyday items. They’re embedded in many consumer, industrial, and commercial products used to protect and preserve or manufacture and package food and drink. You can find them in water and in fish.

PFAS are part of our drinking water, both in public systems and private wells. The highest U.S. concentrations? East Coast, Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and California. Huge amounts of these villains are found in landfills, dumpsites, and other waste sites—hazardous or not.

Have you ever seen firefighting foam used at trainyards, shipyards, airports, military installations, factories, hospitals, and many other large facilities? Those foams contain PFAS.

So do flame retardants used in our night clothes, bed linens, paper products, and so forth.

Are you getting the idea that PFAS are, therefore, very tough to study, evaluate, and remove from our world? Good. Here are a few more ways we ingest them:

dairy products from livestock exposed to PFAS, fertilized farm products, packaging, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, candy wrappers; stain and water-repellents on carpets, upholstery, clothing, and other textiles; cleaning products, non-stick cookware, household paints, varnishes, waxes, and glues. Don’t forget shampoo, hand sanitizer, soap, dental floss, and cosmetic products. Also rainwater, household dust, and all vehicles.

Is this serious and what’s to be done?

The National Institutes of Health has identified more than 12,000 varieties of Polyfluoroalkyl substances. Researchers can’t test for all of them so far, meaning that number is conservative. Experts agree that this junk can harm humans. They are known to at least be contributory to cancer, obesity, thyroid disease, genetic mutations, and embryonic abnormalities.

Recent studies have only looked at fewer than 50 types of PFAS or 0.4% of the known substances. So who knows what future research will uncover?

As usual, we humans seem to be a few days late and a few dollars short in our efforts to protect our species, but science and the EPA are starting to take this all more seriously. Here are the issues currently on the table:

  • Finding ways to identify PFAS in our total environment and in living beings
  • Figuring out exactly what our exposure is, has been, and will be
  • Which of these chemical particles are harmful and in what ways
  • Making our drinking water safe from PFAS and other contaminants before we run out of water
  • Reducing the use of PFAS and learning to safely dispose of them where possible

As a consumer, there are things you can consider doing to minimize whatever risks exist. Yes, it takes effort and attention to detail, so we each must decide our courses of action. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Charcoal or reverse osmosis filters for drinking water
  2. Replace non-stick housewares with stainless steel, iron, glass, or ceramics.
  3. Don’t cook or heat food in grease-resistant or plastic packaging. That includes oven-roasting bags and microwave popcorn or other snacks. BPI-certified packaging does not contain PFAS.
  4. Avoid stain- or water-resistant products like furniture, clothing, or bedding—these are nearly always culprits. Manufacturers’ websites and labels are supposed to specify whether there are PFAS in their products. Search out manufacturer’s that have stopped using these substances.

Keep abreast of Regulations.gov, the EPA’s official online comment system that tracks EPA rule changes. Take the time to make yourself heard via the comment process. For each regulation, you can open the document to see comment procedures. EPA regulations are announced in the Federal Register.

A few new diagnostic tests have been helpful in allowing doctors to determine blood levels of certain PFAS. There is no mitigation treatment, but some doctors believe patients who have been exposed to high levels might benefit from frequent health screenings for high cholesterol and certain cancers.

The latest thinking is that if we reduce our exposure to PFAS incidences, our overall blood levels will go down as time passes.

What happens next?

The wheels of progress grind slowly; let’s hope they don’t grind to a halt.

There’s a lot on the table via the EPA, including a proposal for strictly limiting acceptable levels of PFAS in drinking water everywhere. They’re talking about extensive cleanup, which will cost a fair sum of money, and tighter regulations for the use of these chemicals. It’s a long time off.

As things stand right now, there isn’t a lot of hope for permanent solutions. Our society is totally into conspicuous consumption, so we chose almost a hundred years ago to embrace plastics because they were cheap and limitless. As we’ve seen before, jumping on a new chemical product without concern for consequences has brought us to a seriously risky problem. Our kids will likely pay the price.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to name nine of the 12,000 PFAS as health hazards. Nine. Recently, they proposed to classify the nine as Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous constituents.

Meanwhile, our legislators are sitting on their hands and arguing about nonsense.

News update: On February 4, 2024, MedicalExpress.com wrote about a new study led by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine linking PFAS with dietary concerns. In the results, greater consumption of tea, processed meats, and food prepared outside the home was associated with increased levels of PFAS in the body over time.

According to the study’s lead author: “These findings highlight the need to look at what constitutes ‘healthy’ food in a different way.”

My sources:

Basic Information about Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS) and Other Perfluorinated…

www.epa.gov

Longitudinal study links PFAS contamination with teas, processed meats and food packaging

www.niehs.nih.gov

National Institutes of Health

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About the Creator

Maryan Pelland

A successful, professional writer/editor/publisher/mentor for half a century. Read me now before I throw in the towel. I love to empower other writers. My stories are helpful, funny, unique, and never boring. I write for avid readers.

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