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Forever Chemicals In Almost Anything? What To Do?

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As hopeless romantics pursue their search for lasting love, there’s an alarming issue that the global populace should care about: forever chemicals.

Two words. One massive concern.

And each of those couple of words can signify either something positive or negative.

In this case, the “forever” and the “chemical” in “forever chemicals” both lead to something ugly.

Even fatal.

COPYRIGHT_WI: Published on https://washingtonindependent.com/ebv/forever-chemicals/ by Katharine Tate on 2022-08-24T08:06:14.888Z

Your favorite shampoo contains chemicals.

The air freshener in your car has chemicals, too.

And so is your trusted everyday deodorant.

Are the chemicals in them the ones considered lethal?

What are these forever chemicals and what can we do about them?

Forever chemicals: The threat of PFAS in our water

Forever Chemicals Meaning

The technical term or the right name for forever chemicals are per/poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS for short.

Here’s a definition from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS):

[Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or] PFAS are a large, complex group of manufactured chemicals that are ingredients in various everyday products.

PFAS are synthetic chemicals - meaning, they’re man-made - that are used by people in assorted ways.

Because humans created forever chemicals, they don’t exist in nature.

And this piece of information is what exactly makes things complicated and disturbing.

For nature can’t do anything to “destroy” them.

In other words, forever chemicals don’t break down.

According to the Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust (CHEM Trust) from the U.K., PFAS belong to a huge family of chemicals.

There are 9,000 of them.

People make PFAS because they benefit from them in several ways.

For example, PFAS help medical professionals, they protect firefighters, and they generate profits for businesses.

They are used to store foods and to keep the pizza you ordered online warm upon delivery.

Stacks of brown Costco pizza boxes on a flatbed trolley
Stacks of brown Costco pizza boxes on a flatbed trolley

Would you believe, forever chemicals also ensure hassle-free cooking - even plaque-free teeth?

Oh, yes, they do.

Yet, they’re bad?

Yes. They can be good; they can be bad.

PFAS can be both.

Forever chemicals can be detrimental to people’s health.

With that said, they still get used - and continuously produced.

Perhaps people believe the purpose PFAS serve outweighs the possible problems.

Or, it could be that people are not that fully aware about the harm forever chemicals can inflict on them.

While those who know (such as their manufacturers) never cared at all?

Yes! A resounding “Yes!”

Case in point: DuPont.

DuPont logo in red uppercase letters and elliptic wording effect against a white background
DuPont logo in red uppercase letters and elliptic wording effect against a white background

DuPont And PFAS

Wilmington-based American company DuPont (DuPont de Nemours, Inc.) is one of the biggest manufacturers of chemicals in the world.

It traces its beginnings when it was still E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, a 19th-century gunpowder factory in Wilmington, Delaware.

Eleuthere Irenee du Pont (1771-1834), a French chemist who resided in the U.S. starting in 1799, founded it in 1802.

Fast forward to 1946.

DuPont started selling a cookware that promises not to make food stick while being cooked on it.

Before making that cookware, DuPont first created forever chemicals that the company patented under the name “Teflon,” according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

This Teflon is the coating that makes DuPont’s cookware non-stick.

EWG noted that DuPont knew that Teflon, as one type of PFAS, was dangerous.

It was only in 2001 that it was discovered that DuPont would discard forever chemicals in West Virginia’s 981-mile-long Ohio River.

Fifteen different kinds of non-stick pans hanging from a kitchen rack along with ladles and strainers
Fifteen different kinds of non-stick pans hanging from a kitchen rack along with ladles and strainers

EPA Forever Chemicals List

As part of safeguarding public health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a program called Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

The TRI program monitors activities that may involve the use of toxic chemicals, such as forever chemicals.

The EPA requires companies and government facilities in America to report to the TRI the PFAS they use.

As of January 2020, the EPA identified 160 PFAS that needed to be reported to the TRI.

Below are five forever chemicals included in EPA’s list, as published by Bloomberg Law:

  • hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (GenX)
  • perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
  • perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
  • perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts (PFOA)
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and its salts (PFOS)

The aforementioned PFAS, including the other 155 on EPA’s list, can be found in:

  • shoes
  • semiconductors
  • sticky notes

Bloomberg named W. L. Gore & Associates in Delaware and Michigan-based footwear manufacturer Wolverine World Wide as those that use PFAS.

Gore particularly uses forever chemicals in making the following:

  • protective outerwear for firefighters
  • workwear for industrial workers
  • medical products (e.g., implantable medical devices)
Three firefighters in front of a Mercedes firetruck
Three firefighters in front of a Mercedes firetruck

How To Avoid Forever Chemicals?

It would be difficult to avoid forever chemicals as they are present in food and consumer products.

For example, PFAS are found in:

  • carpets
  • non-stick cookware
  • certain brands of dental floss
  • food packaging (e.g., pizza boxes, food containers for takeout orders, popcorn bags)

Based on these examples, you can avoid forever chemicals by not purchasing carpets.

As for non-stick cookware, use these alternatives:

  • ceramic-coated pans
  • pans made of cast iron
  • stainless steel pans

You may consider bringing your own PFAS-free food containers; so, when there’s takeout food, you can place them there.

Avoid buying cooked popcorn. Just make your own.

Per BuzzFeed News, don’t buy these dental floss products because they contain forever chemicals:

  • Colgate Total Dental Floss Mint
  • Crest Glide Deep Clean Cool Mint Floss
  • CVS Health Waxed Dental Floss
  • Oral-B Glide Pro-Health (Original and Mint)
  • Safeway Signature Care Mint Waxed Comfort Floss
A male kid outside McDonald’s holding McDonald’s fries and a handwritten sign that says, ‘no PFAS for me’
A male kid outside McDonald’s holding McDonald’s fries and a handwritten sign that says, ‘no PFAS for me’

Forever Chemicals In Food

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group from New York, stated that PFAS can contaminate bodies of water and soil.

That means the baked salmon or the steak you ordered for dinner may have forever chemicals in them.

Two likely scenarios:

  • The salmon - or any other fish for that matter - might be swimming in a PFAS-contaminated water.
  • Or the cow - or any grass-eating farm animal - munched on grasses growing in a PFAS-contaminated soil.

You get the picture?

In a 2019 article, NRDC presented an infographic about the result of an action taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA discovered the presence of forever chemicals in these foods that it tested:

  • pineapples
  • baked sweet potatoes
  • lamb chops
  • sausages
  • ground turkey
  • marine foods (e.g., catfish, cod, salmon, shrimp, tilapia)
  • low-fat chocolate milk

As previously mentioned, food packaging contains PFAS.

Research scientist Justin M. Boucher, the operations director at the science organization Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Zurich, said:

We know that these substances migrate into the food you eat. It’s clear, direct exposure.

According to New York-based nonprofit organization Consumer Reports, several American fast-food restaurants pledged to stop using them.

For one, McDonald’s vowed to terminate their use by 2025.

These establishments use containers/wrappers/paper bags that have forever chemicals in them:

  • Arby’s - cookie bag
  • Burger King - cookie bag
  • Cava - kids meal’s food tray
  • Chick-fil-A - sandwich wrapper
  • McDonald’s - french fries bag
  • Nathan’s - side dishes bag
  • Taco Bell - chips bag
Assorted bottled waters including Contrex and Perrier in a Japanese grocery store
Assorted bottled waters including Contrex and Perrier in a Japanese grocery store

Forever Chemicals In Water

We’re talking about bottled water here.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University tested bottled waters sold in the U.S. for presence of PFAS, according to Consumer Reports.

In 2021, the scientific journal Water Research published their study.

And based on the result, 39 out of 101 commercial bottled waters contain the dreaded forever chemicals.

In September 2020, Consumer Reports identified the top ten bottled water products that contain the highest PFAS levels as:

Name of Bottled WaterTotal PFAS (parts per trillion)
Topo Chico Natural Mineral Water9.76
Polar Natural Seltzer Water6.41
Tourmaline Spring Sacred Living Water4.64
Bubly Blackberry Sparkling Water2.24
Poland Spring Zesty Lime Sparkling Water1.66
Canada Dry Lemon Lime Sparkling Seltzer Water1.24
Deer Park Natural Spring Water1.21
La Croix Natural Sparkling Water1.16
Perrier Natural Sparkling Mineral Water1.1
Schweppes Lemon Lime Sparkling Water Beverage0.58

It would be best to buy your own water purifier or water filtration device.

Not only can you save money and prevent plastic bottle usage, you can likewise avoid these forever chemicals from entering your body.

Forever Chemicals In Makeup

In 2021, The Guardian reported about researchers checking 231 cosmetic products to see which ones have forever chemicals.

Among the cosmetics tested were from these popular global brands:

  • Clinique
  • Cover Girl
  • Estée Lauder
  • L’Oréal
  • MAC
  • Maybelline

However, in terms of which brands contain PFAS, the researchers decided not to specify them.

Dark-colored eye makeup, lipstick and nail polish containing forever chemicals
Dark-colored eye makeup, lipstick and nail polish containing forever chemicals

The journal Environmental Science & Technology published their study in 2021.

Of the 231 cosmetic products tested, 52 percent have high fluorine, one of those forever chemicals.

The detailed results, as published also by Science Direct, were these:

Type of Makeup - Number of Tested ProductsPercentage with High Fluorine
waterproof mascara (11)82 percent
liquid foundation and creams (43)63 percent
liquid lipstick (42)62 percent
eye shadow and eye liners (43)58 percent
bronzers and blush (30)40 percent

People Also Ask

Why Is It Called Forever Chemicals?

It’s because PFAS tends to last forever.

As the American non-profit organization Clean Water Action also said, PFAS:

  • “are extremely persistent”
  • can exist for “thousands of years”

What Are The Dangers Of Forever Chemicals?

As hazardous chemicals, PFAS can cause:

  • high cholesterol
  • liver problems
  • certain types of cancer (e.g., renal or kidney cancer, testicular cancer)

Among pregnant women, PFAS can:

  • badly affect fetal development
  • cause preeclampsia (hypertension as induced by one’s pregnancy)

USA Today reported that the forever chemicals perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) can cause:

  • thyroid disease
  • ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease)

Why Is Rainwater Not Safe For Drinking?

Rainwater, as reported by Indian Express, also gets contaminated with forever chemicals.

Aside from that, bacteria, germs, parasites, and viruses can be present in rainwater, according to Live Science.

Is It Safe To Boil Rainwater?

Boiling rainwater for one’s drinking consumption is not safe.

Though some of the bacteria or germs can be killed, boiling cannot remove chemicals such as PFAS in rainwater.

Conclusion

It seems there’s no escaping from forever chemicals because they appear to be present in almost everything.

From foods to clothes to certain furniture and equipment, PFAS can be there.

What to do then?

Use alternatives, widen your options, update yourself about news or advisories concerning products that possibly contain PFAS, and so on.

As what scientist Katie Boronow told BuzzFeed News in 2019:

It’s about choosing safer products.

Boronow, who earned her master’s degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard, discovered the PFAS in those dental floss products mentioned earlier.

As forever chemicals can outlive each one of us, let’s prolong our lives by avoiding them.

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About The Authors

Katharine Tate

Katharine Tate - I’m a native of Massachusetts, where I earned bachelor's degrees in Health, Science, Society, and Policy and Sculpture from Brandeis University. I enjoy assisting and inspiring women in all aspects of their lives, and I consider myself a partner in their OB an GYN treatment. I particularly enjoy forming relationships with young women and assisting them in determining their healthcare needs and goals. I love to travel, create metal and fiber art, cook, and spend time outside. Also, I’m fluent in both German and American Sign Language.

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