Chemical Threat: PFAS the "Forever Chemicals"


PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl) have not been used or even manufactured in the U.S since 2015 due to concerns over their environmental and health impact. Yet, 98% of the population in the United States have PFOA in their blood, and worse, these chemicals will never go away because they don’t degrade.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals first introduced in the United States in the 1940s. PFOA, PFOS, GenX are of the many chemicals within this group with PFOA (Perfluorocaprylic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) being the most widely produced, used, and studied.

PFAS don’t break down in the environment and take a very long time to leave the human body with a half-life of four to five years on average.

Exposure to PFAS can lead to serious adverse human health effects including: cancer, reproductive harm, developmental harm, high cholesterol, damage to the immune system, hormone disruption, weight gain in children and dieting adults, and liver and kidney damage.

The FDA tested for the presence of 16 PFAS chemicals in foods sampled across eight mid-Atlantic states, including North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware and Kentucky. The FDA detected PFOS in approximately half of the meat and seafood products; PFPeA in chocolate milk and high levels in chocolate cake with icing; PFBA in pineapple; and PFHxS in sweet potato. In a related study, the FDA detected the PFAS chemical GenX and highly elevated levels of numerous other PFAS in samples of leafy greens grown within 10 miles of a PFAS production facility.

According to U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Center for Biotechnology Information:
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8 and perfluorooctanoate, is a synthetic, stable perfluorinated carboxylic acid and fluorosurfactant. PFOA persists indefinitely in the environment. It has been used in the manufacture of such prominent consumer goods as Teflon and Gore-Tex. It is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population in the low and sub-parts per billion range, and levels are higher in chemical plant employees and surrounding subpopulations. Exposure has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels, and recently higher serum levels of PFOA were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies.

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), is a man-made fluorosurfactant and global pollutant. PFOS was the key ingredient in Scotchgard, a fabric protector made by 3M, and numerous stain repellents. It was added to Annex B of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in May 2009. PFOS can form from the degradation of precursors in addition to industrial production. The PFOS levels that have been detected in wildlife are considered high enough to affect health parameters, and recently higher serum levels of PFOS were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies.


PFAS exposure

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:

  • Some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers

  • Nonstick cookware

  • Stain resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics

  • Water resistant clothing

  • Cleaning products

  • Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)

  • Paints, varnishes, and sealants

  • Drinking contaminated municipal water or private well water

  • Eating fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS (PFOS, in particular)

  • Accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust

  • Eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS

  • fruits, vegetables and grains that are irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water or grown in soils that are contaminted with PFAS.

Copyright © 2019, Environmental Working Group. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2019, Environmental Working Group. All rights reserved.


Environmental Working Group, Mapping The PFAS Contamination Crisis: New Data Show 610 Sites in 43 States, Monica Amarelo, May 6, 2019

FDA Tests Confirm Suspicions about PFAS Chemicals in Food, Colin O’Neil, David Andrews Ph.D., June 3, 2019

EPA, Fact Sheet: 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program

AP News, FDA: Sampling finds toxic nonstick compounds in some food, Ellen Knickmeyer, John Flesher and Michael Casey, June 3, 2019