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- The chemical class known as PFAS became popular in the US around the 1940s, since they resist heat, grease, stains, and water.
- Today, PFAS are considered toxic and have been linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and developmental issues.
- Most humans get exposed to PFAS by ingesting contaminated food or water, though the chemicals have also been found in clothing and cosmetics.
- PFAS are difficult to avoid, but there are still ways to screen your household items.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more.
A class of "forever chemicals" is found in the bloodstreams of 99% of Americans.
Last month, Congress held a hearing about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and developmental issues. The chemicals can linger in water and air for thousands of years, so consuming or inhaling them means they could stay in the body for life — hence the "forever" nickname.
At the July hearing, Harley Rouda, chairman of the House environmental subcommittee, called PFAS a "national emergency."
Here’s how to reduce your PFAS exposure.
Clothing that’s billed as "waterproof" or "stain resistant" may contain PFAS.
Though many types of PFAS have been phased out of the manufacturing industry, they are still found in some kinds of clothing labeled as "waterproof" or "stain resistant."
To avoid purchasing clothing with PFAS, check your label for materials like Gore-Tex or Teflon, which could signal that the chemicals were used in the fabric.
As a fabric protector, Teflon helps ward off dirt, stains, and water — but it could contain harmful variants of PFAS in clothing produced before 2015. Gore-Tex is a similar product used in waterproof clothing like raincoats and outdoor gear. The manufacturing company behind the product, Gore Fabrics, is working to eliminate certain types of PFAS from fabrics by 2023.
But consumers shouldn’t worry too much about the chemicals seeping into their skin.
"The biggest issue associated with consumer products isn’t necessarily the direct exposure that we get from the products, but what gets released into the environment when those products are produced," Jamie DeWitt, an associate toxicology professor at East Carolina University, told Business Insider.
Ski wax contains PFAS, but it’s mostly a problem for people who work with the product.
When it comes to toxic chemicals, the dose matters: People exposed to PFAS on a regular basis generally have a higher risk of experiencing negative health effects.
Technicians who work with ski wax, a product that often contains PFAS, may be particularly vulnerable.
In 2010, a Swedish study found that workers who waxed skis as part of their job showed elevated levels of PFAS in their blood compared to the general population. That was likely because the workers ingested chemicals after they were released into the air.
But DeWitt said you don’t have to work with PFAS constantly to be susceptible to health problems.
"We haven’t yet fully recognized all of the ways in which people are susceptible," she said. "There are some individuals who might experience adverse health effects at very low concentrations of PFAS in their blood."
PFAS can be found in personal-care products like hairspray and foundation.
In 2018, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found PFAS in various beauty products, including foundation, concealer, hairspray, and eyeliner.
That research relied on data from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which examined 75,000 cosmetics and personal-care products, nearly 200 of which contained PFAS. The EWG has made its database public so consumers can research products on their own.
DeWitt said the Green Science Policy Institute, which she has worked with, is also helpful for screening household items.
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