What Do We Know About PFAs?
Have you come across the term ‘PFA’ before? PFA is the common acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These compounds are resistant to water, oil and heat and their use has exploded since their invention in the middle of the twentieth century. These chemicals are abundant, toxic and incredibly harmful to human health.
Increased research is being conducted on the potential health impacts of a large range of widely used but little understood chemicals found in water-resistant clothes, stain-resistant furniture, non-stick cookware and several other consumer, commercial and industrial products. Due to their non-stick capabilities, PFAS are used in a wide range of products such as food packaging, tents, carpets, umbrellas and firefighting foams. Polymers, rubbers, and electrical wiring insulation can all benefit from the compounds.
Due to their abundance, PFAS have entered the soil and – particularly in some parts of the world- our drinking water. They have been proven to pollute the global environment, animals and human populations: proof which is evident and indisputable both in the UK and US. Concentrations of PFAS have been detected in a range of bodily fluids including human blood, urine and breastmilk, in addition to placental and umbilical cord tissue. Today, children are born pre-contaminated with PFAS, jeopardising the health of future generations.
The Silent Spring team conducted an analysis of 93 items that are commonly used by children and teens such as bedding, furniture and clothing. The researchers chose products that were specifically touted as being resistant to stains and water as well as being environmentally safe and non-toxic and the results of the study were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The researchers used a rapid screening procedure to identify fluorine (a PFAS marker) in the samples. 54 of the 93 products tested had total F levels of more than 10 ppm. Shockingly, the largest concentrations of fluorine were found in t-shirts worn by local school pupils. Fluorine is more likely to be found in products labelled as water- or stain-resistant, as well as eco-friendly or non-toxic, than other products.
The most prevalent traces of PFAS were found on furniture, fabrics and pillow protectors, with the highest concentrations of PFAS found in pillow protectors and clothing. Even ‘green’-labelled products were found to contain PFAS! China is the source of the vast bulk of these highly toxic household products.
In the US, a recent military spending bill included new PFAS regulations, although environmentalists highlight that these measures aren’t necessarily effective in meaningfully addressing contamination from PFAS. For green certifiers, studies into PFAS highlight the necessity of including these toxic substances in certification criteria and conducting in-depth review of the products certified and available for household consumption. Certifications offered by third parties guarantee that a product does not contain certain hazardous compounds. Certifications, on the other hand, have varying standards of safety and do not all cover the same chemicals. It is also the responsibility of retailers to help eliminate this toxic trail and ultimately, our reliance upon China as a global producer of cheap and hazardous products needs to be challenged.