Unlike just 5 years ago, most people have now heard about the “Forever Chemicals” known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals are more commonly referred to as PFAS. PFAS are widely used in numerous products from food containers to infant car seats. PFAS are known as Forever Chemicals because the components break down extremely slowly over time. Since PFAS chemicals can persist in the environment for decades or even centuries without breaking down, it is important to be conscious of exposure pathways.
EVERYONE IS EXPOSED TO PFAS
PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world. PFAS can be found in the water we drink, in the food we eat, the soil we touch, and the air we breathe.
Primary Exposure Pathway: Ingestion
Due to decades of use of PFAS containing Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFF) by the military, airports, and fire fighters for training and live fire exercises, as well as the manufacture of other PFAS products, many drinking water systems throughout the United States are contaminated with some level of PFAS.
Municipalities are discovering the problems created by PFAS more and more everyday:https://www.stagliuzza.com/news/the-problem-with-pfas-for-municipalities
The EPA has established a health advisory for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt), though multiple states have stepped in to regulate PFAS with health limits as low as 5 ppt for drinking water.
Contaminated Food Products
Despite widespread PFAS contamination of aquifers throughout the country, many agricultural wells are not tested for PFAS. Crops watered with PFAS contaminated water will bio-uptake contamination into the plants and fruits/vegetables. When humans consume contaminated food items, they receive a dose of PFAS.
Beyond the uptake from contaminated water, the Guardian recently reported that as much as 20 million acres of US cropland due to the use of PFAS contaminated sewerage in the production of fertilizer. Many industries use PFAS chemicals in their industrial processes and subsequently discharge PFAS wastes into the nation’s sewerage systems.
Sewerage sludge is a byproduct of wastewater treatment processes. Sludge is a mix of human and industrial wastes, like PFAS. Since disposal of sludge can be expensive, waste disposal companies have repackaged this sludge as fertilizer since excrement is rich in nutrients. EPA records show more than 19 billion pounds of PFAS containing sewerage sludge has been used as fertilizer since 2016 in the 41 states where the EPA tracks the amount of sludge that is spread. It is estimated that 60% of the nation’s sludge is spread on cropland or other fields annually. PFAS from sewerage sludge chemicals are taken up by crops and cattle contaminating the food supply and causing a currently unknown negative public health impact.
Another ingestion pathway exposure is through consuming contaminated fish and shellfish. Fish raised in PFAS contaminated waters will bio-uptake PFAS into their flesh. Maine recently announced that fish in seven water bodies throughout the state have been found to have concentrations of PFAS that are above the recommended level for consumption warning fisherman to limit consumption of fish from these waterbodies. Few states have begun testing wildlife for PFAS.
Maine: PFAS-contaminated sludge should not be used to grow crops or as feed for animals.
In Maine, PFAS-contamination of fields forced several farms to shut down. Maine is also investigating PFAS contamination at hundreds of farms around the state due to contaminated fertilizer that contained sewerage sludge. In April, Maine became the first state to ban the practice of spreading PFAS-contaminated sewerage sludge as fertilizer.
The Maine legislature also created a $60m fund that will be used to help conduct medical monitoring for farmers, as well as for buyouts and for other forms of financial assistance. Other states should follow Maine’s lead in banning the landfarming of PFAS wastes and providing assistance for the affected farmers.
PFAS are often found in food packaging to prevent the paper product from degrading after contact with grease or other liquids. While PFAS prevents grease from soaking through the packaging, PFAS chemicals have been shown to leach into fats when exposed to high heat. Due to this additional unknown level of exposure, several states have begun to ban the incorporation of PFAS in food packaging.
Secondary Exposure Pathways: Dermal and Inhalation
Personal care products such as lotions and beauty products often contain PFAS chemicals. This is also true for various home cleaning products. Data obtained from FDA’s Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program show that PFAS are used as ingredients in certain cosmetics, such as lotions, cleansers, nail polish, shaving cream, and some types of makeup, such as lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara.
Contaminated Soil & House Dust
People are exposed to PFAS through contact with contaminated soils. These soils could be contaminated via AFFF use by fire departments or the military, the spread of sewerage sludge as fertilizer, pollution from industrial manufacturing processes, or the disposal of PFAS containing wastes. Additionally, people may unknowingly bring PFAS contamination into their homes from their workplace or other areas by transporting contaminated soil on their clothes and shoes.
Dust in homes can become contaminated with PFAS. Tape samples of dust from behind refrigerators or taken atop airducts in homes frequently show concerning levels of PFAS. This dust can be disturbed when you move your refrigerator, walk in your home, or rearrange furniture. The dust becomes suspended in air where people can breathe in the particles and become exposed to PFAS.
Workplace Exposures to PFAS
The most well-known type of workplace exposures to PFAS are firefighters’ exposure to Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) during training and live-fire exercises. For decades, fire-fighters have regularly used PFAS-containing AFFF for training exercises in addition to off-label use such as washing trucks. These exposures have created a significant public health threat. Mike Stag explained our work with fire fighters in a recent video blog post: https://www.stagliuzza.com/news/firefighter-foam-and-lawsuits If you are or were a fire-fighter who used AFFF at their job and developed cancer, call Stag Liuzza at 504-593-9600 for a free consultation.