In early July of 2023 a research study examining the quality of water made the news and sadly it was concerning. The study was conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which is the science arm of the Department of Interior (part of the federal government). The USGS tested tap water from 716 public and private locations across the US from 2016-2021 for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). There are over 12,000 types of PFAS and the study tested for the presence of 32 types. They found at least one PFAS in 20% of private-wells and 40% of the public water supply. They estimated that at least one PFAS can be found in 45% of US drinking water samples.
Now you may be thinking so what? Why does this matter? What is a PFAS?
PFAS are a group of chemicals that are used in industrial plants. They degrade slowly, they have surfactant properties, and are heat and flame resistant. Because the degradation is very slow, they have been termed “forever chemicals”. They last in the human body and in animals for years and do not break down in the environment. These chemicals are used in fast-food boxes, paper used to wrap food, non-stick cookware, fire-fighting foams, grease-resistant microwave bags, and stain-water resistant textiles (clothing, furniture, carpets), personal care products and cosmetics. It is easy to see how PFAS have helped make life easier but they potentially come at a cost to our health.
Research documenting the health effects of PFAS has shown an association with the following conditions:
· Certain cancers (testicular, prostate, kidney, liver, and pancreatic)
· Reproductive problems
· Insulin resistance
· Metabolic syndrome
· Hormone imbalances
· High cholesterol
· Weakened immune system
· Low birth weight
PFAS are so widespread now that sadly there is no avoiding them and most of us have been exposed. While some supplements may help to process them, the best that one can do is to limit their exposure. You can limit your exposure by implementing the strategies listed below.
· Avoid using nonstick cookware. Instead use cookware made of ceramic, stainless steel, or glass.
· Avoid fast food. PFAS in fast food containers or paper wraps can contaminate the food.
· Avoid microwave popcorn.
· Avoid clothing or furniture fabric that is stain resistant.
· Avoid clothing that is water resistant.
· Download the app, “Think Dirty”. You can use this to identify cosmetics and personal care products that contain PFAS and other toxins that may be harmful.
· Purchase a water filter for your home. In general, reverse osmosis filters can filter out PFAS. The problem with these filters is that they also remove essential minerals that we need. If you choose to go with a reverse osmosis water filter, make sure the filter is designed to put the minerals back into the water. Alternatively, you can research a water filter titled “Hydroviv”. This filter is tailored to your specific water supply, is an effective water filter, and does not remove the essential minerals. Hydroviv reports that the filter removes PFAS. Regardless of which filter you choose, make sure the company reports that the filter removes “PFAS”. If they report the filter removes PFOA or PFOS it is only removing this specific type of PFAS and not all of them.
It is important to note that the molecular make up of PFAS has changed over the years. This was done reportedly to make them safer. Remember, despite this, they are a man made chemical and it is best to limit your exposure as much as possible. Your health is worth it.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. What are the Health Effects of PFAS?
Environmental Work Group (2023). What are PFAS chemicals?
Smalling, K. L. et. al. (2023) Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in United States tapwater: Comparison of underserved private-well and public-supply exposures and associated health implications. Environmental International, 178, 108033.
US EPA (2023). Our current understanding of the human health and environmental risks of PFAS.