How to reduce your exposure to PFAS

PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that have been used for decades in firefighting foam and to make products like non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets, waterproof jackets and fast-food packaging that repel oil and grease.

They are commonly known as forever chemicals because they do not degrade in the environment. Some accumulate in human blood and take years to leave the body.

Long-term exposure to minute levels of certain PFAS can trigger testicular and kidney cancer, birth defects, liver damage, impaired fertility, immune system disorders, high cholesterol and obesity, studies have found. Connections to breast cancer and other diseases are suspected.

The chemicals are difficult to avoid. They have been found in people and the environment around the world. But government officials and nonprofit groups are making suggestions on how to reduce your risk.

  • Consider getting your drinking water tested. In Illinois alone, more than 8 million people in the state get their water from a utility where at least one chemical has been detected. When PFAS are detected in your water, the nonprofit NSF recommends filters that are capable of reducing levels of persistent chemicals.
  • House dust is another source of exposure. Use HEPA filters when vacuuming, dust with damp cloths and mops, and wash hands frequently, especially before eating.
  • Cut back on fast food, greasy take-out and microwave popcorn as they often come in PFAS-treated packaging.
  • Choose cosmetics and other personal care products without “PTFE” or “Fluorine” ingredients. Any that claim to be waterproof are likely made with PFAS. The nonprofit environmental working group maintains a database to determine which shampoos, dental floss, makeup and other personal care products do and do not contain PFAS and other toxic substances.
  • Look for products that haven’t been pre-treated to resist stains and skip the optional stain-resistant treatment on new carpets and furniture.
  • Avoid non-stick cookware and utensils made of PTFE or PFAS. If the product label says it’s PFOA-free, it may still contain other eternal chemicals.
  • Stain and water resistant clothing and outdoor gear can contain PFAS. Look for retailers that have policies restricting the use of the chemicals.

Sources: Consumer Reports, Environmental Working Group, Green Science Policy Institute, US Environmental Protection Agency.

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