Everything You Need to Know About PFAS Chemicals

July 12, 2021

Cosmetic products made with harmful PFAS chemicals - Chemscape

What are PFAS?

PFAS are also known as polytetrafluoroethylene or polyfluoroalkyl substances. The ingredient commonly known as Teflon, or the coating on non-stick pans is an example of a PFAS. They are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not decompose and so they accumulate in the environment. There are more than 4,700 compounds considered to be PFAS chemicals.

Where are PFAS Chemicals Found?

PFAS chemicals are used in many products including non-stick cookware, infection-resistant surgical gowns and drapes, cell phones, semi-conductors, commercial aircraft and low-emissions vehicles. Data from a 2007 study found 98% of humans that were tested had PFAS in their blood. This finding supports the tendency of PFAS to accumulate in biosystems. 

These chemicals are also used to make carpeting, clothing, furniture and food packaging resistant to stains, water and grease damage. Foods that contain a lot of grease -- such as burgers, fries and cookies are also prime candidates for wrappers made with PFAS.

What Does PFAS do to Your Body?

PFAS chemicals do not break down in our bodies and can accumulate in the tissues causing health effects. Numerous studies link PFAS and closely-related PFAS chemicals to: 

  • Testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer.

  • Reproductive problems 

  • Weakened childhood immunity. 

  • Low birth weight 

  • Endocrine disruption 

  • Increased cholesterol 

  • Weight gain in children and dieting adults 

Awareness of the negative health effects of these chemicals on human health has been known for over 50 years. The removal of long-chain PFAS from consumer products in the USA occurred voluntarily by industry in early 2000s. Industry has replaced them with 4,700 new short-chain PFAS; which cause as many of the dangerous health effects as the older versions. This progression is not a step in the right direction for consumers or the environment. 

How do PFAS Enter Your Body?

PFAS in Food & Packaging

PFAS may enter your body by eating food that has been:  

  1. packaged in PFAS-containing materials. 

  2. cooked with equipment that used PFAS. 

  3. grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water. 

PFAS may be consumed through meat and fish products if the animal was raised in an environment that was subject to PFAS build up overtime.

Commercial Household Products Containing PFAS Chemicals

Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, non-stick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams that contain PFAS increase exposure in the home.

Occupational Exposure to PFAS at Manufacturing Facilities

Workplace exposure typically occurs at production facilities or industries that use PFAS as a manufactured product or product additive.

PFAS Chemicals in Water

PFAS may build up in drinking water. The amount of PFAS contamination in drinking water will vary by population size and drinking source.

Beauty Products & “Forever Chemicals”

Lawmakers in the USA have introduced 2 new bills after a study found popular beauty products may contain cancer-linked 'forever chemicals'. Some of the highest levels of PFAS are found in make-up including foundation (63%), waterproof mascara (82%) and long-lasting lipstick (62%). 

Many of these beauty products that contain PFAS are often used close to the eyes where they are more readily absorbed into the body. Skin around the eyes is thin and delicate, close to tear ducts and mucus membranes. Additionally, people frequently lick their lips and will ingest products in lipstick unknowingly.  

Consumers can use the Skin Deep database on EWG's site to look up specific products and the chemicals they contain.

The Elimination of PFAS Chemicals in Consumer Products

Elimination of these PFAS chemicals in consumer products and substitution with safer alternatives will be an ongoing and long-term strategy, driven primarily by consumer intolerance of PFAS. The EPA posts resources on PFAS as well as short- and long-term actions to address PFAS in the environment and human health. Do what you can to avoid PFAS; your body will thank you.

Action Plan to Reduce Your Consumption of PFAS

  • Ditch fast food and microwave popcorn.  

  • Think twice about stain- or water-resistant products.  

  • Do not buy another non-stick pan.  

  • Be smart about seafood. 

  • Check on your water supply

Keep Your Workplace Safe from Harmful PFAS Chemical Exposure

Chemscape offers CHAMP, a chemical hazard assessment management program, to help your workplace develop a chemical safety plan that reduces the risk of exposure to PFAS and other harmful chemicals for your employees.