Friday, June 17, 2022

EPA Warns That PFAS “Forever Chemicals” are up to 17,500 Times More Toxic Than Previously Known

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
(Note: Most of the writing is taken from the sources in the embedded links)

The EPA just warnsed that toxic ‘forever chemicals used to make Teflon and many other consumer products are as much as 17,500 times more toxic than we knew. Lifetime exposure levels for one such chemical, known as PFOA, has been lowered from 70 parts per trillion (a very small amount) to 0.004 parts per trillion. That is a staggering reduction in safe exposure levels for this ubiquitous chemical. The new EPA recommendations calls for a complete rethinking of the use of a whole class of carbon fluoride chemicals, know collectively as PFAS chemicals, used in manufacturing of so many consumer products. 

Background - What Are PFAS?

“PFAS are synthetic chemicals that have been manufactured and used by a broad range of industries since the 1940s. PFAS are used in many applications because of their unique physical properties such as resistance to high and low temperatures, resistance to degradation, and nonstick characteristics. PFAS have been detected worldwide in the air, soil, and water. Due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS. There is evidence that exposure above specific levels to certain PFAS may cause adverse health effects.”
PFAS chemicals are chains of carbon atoms coupled with a fluoride atom creating a very strong chemical bond. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they break down extremely slowly, if ever. As a result, they don’t break down in our bodies and build up over time. This is also the case in animals. These “forever chemicals” can persist in the environment for years without breaking down.

Hundreds of everyday products are made with highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS. They build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency warned Wednesday that a group of human-made chemicals found in the drinking water, cosmetics, and food packaging used by millions of Americans poses a greater danger to human health than regulators previously thought. Very small doses of PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases.

Examples of PFAS uses:

Teflon and other no-stick cookware, Scotch Guard, fire retardants, and water repellent clothing. It is also used in cosmetics and food packaging. Some examples of consumer products with a high concentration of PFAS chemicals include:
· 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

Health Studies

EPA evaluated over 400 studies published since 2016 and used new human health risk assessment approaches, tools, and models. Human studies have found associations between PFOA and/or PFOS exposure and effects on the immune system, the cardiovascular system, development (e.g., decreased birth weight), and cancer. The newly published peer-reviewed data and draft EPA analyses (U.S. EPA, 2021a, b) indicate that the levels at which negative health outcomes could occur are much lower than previously understood.

Health Impacts of PFOA and/or PFOS Exposure

· infertility

· thyroid disease

· pancreatic cancer

· non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

· kidney cancer

· prostate cancer

· breast cancer

· liver cancer

· ovarian cancer

· testicular cancer

· decreased birth weights

· compromised immune system

· compromised cardiovascular system

· birth defects

· liver damage

· high cholesterol

· obesity

· hormone suppression

· ulcerative colitis,

· pregnancy-induced hypertension.

EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals

WASHINGTON (June 15, 2022) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released four drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the latest action under President Biden’s action plan to deliver clean water and [EPA] Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap.

Agency officials assessed two of the most common ones, known as PFOA and PFOS, in recent human health studies and announced Wednesday that lifetime exposure at staggeringly low levels of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion, respectively, can compromise the immune and cardiovascular systems and are linked to decreased birth weights.

Those drinking-water concentrations represent “really sharp reductions” from previous health advisories set at 70 parts per trillion in 2016, said Erik Olson, a senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.

Agency officials assessed two of the most common ones, known as PFOA and PFOS, in recent human health studies and announced Wednesday that lifetime exposure at staggeringly low levels of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion, respectively, can compromise the immune and cardiovascular systems and are linked to decreased birth weights… The advisories’ levels are so low that they are difficult to detect with today’s technology.

These PFAS chemicals are now found virtually everywhere and have contaminated every state. An interactive map of the United States plots where the most polluted sites have been identified. Despite all the extreme concerns and stringent new guidance, the EPA has not yet implemented any mandatory standards.

Local Water Standards

Mine Hill and other local municipalities purchases water from the Morris County MUA. Each year a Consumer Confidence Report is published and sent out to the residents. For the first time in 2020, there was unregulated contaminant monitoring for PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) in our tap water. These are among the most common PFAS chemical compounds in the environment. The results were published in last year’s 2021 report and a screenshot of the results appears below. The results were that none of these chemicals were detected, but the new guidance from the EPA means that a much more sensitive testing methodology will be needed in the future to detect levels in the range of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion.

Because these chemicals build up in our bodies over time, reducing our lifetime exposure is essential. And, because these chemicals don't break down, they are persistent enough to make their way into our underground aquifers and into our well water. Municipalities and private well owners should test for PFAS chemicals periodically and take reasonable precautions if they are detected. This might include a reverse osmosis filtration system for drinking water. Reducing or avoiding consumer products that may contain PFAS chemicals is another good place to reduce our exposure.  

Postscript: Dark Waters is a 2019 American legal thriller film directed by Todd Haynes and written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan. The story dramatizes Robert Bilott's case against the chemical manufacturing corporation DuPont after they contaminated a town with unregulated chemicals. It is a pretty accurate, and dramatic account of the history of PFSA chemical's introduction into the world. It may serve as a primer for further understanding how this chemical crisis came about. 

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