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Sources of PFAS

In March of 2023, following years of mounting public pressure, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first National Primary Drinking Water Regulation pertaining to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Biden’s EPA proposed the establishment of drinking water safety standards for 6 PFAS compounds. In April 2023, the EPA followed that announcement by issuing advance notice of rulemaking classifying PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA (the Superfund Act). If both rule sets are ultimately implemented, they will represent major steps forward in confronting the serious threats to waterways and public health presented by PFAS.

What are Forever Chemicals?

PFAS—also known as forever chemicals—are a class of human-made carbon-fluorine compounds often used for their fire-resistant, stain repellent, and non-stick qualities. While PFAS are used for industrial purposes, such as within jet engines, they are also commonly used in many household items such as nonstick cookware, microwave popcorn bags, fast-food wrappers, water or stain-resistant clothing, and countless plastic products. And although PFAS items have become increasingly ubiquitous in modern life, they pose a threat to human and environmental health, especially as these chemicals break down very slowly over time—hence the name forever chemicals.

Human exposure to PFAS has been linked to numerous negative health impacts such as endocrine disruption, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. Exposure to PFAS can also disrupt fetal development. And because PFAS products have become so common inside homes, food, and water, continuous exposure and potential bioaccumulation in the body is likely.

Protecting Ourselves and Our Communities

In light of these risks, it’s important to focus on how we can best protect ourselves and our communities from exposure to PFAS. On a systemic level, individuals and communities can organize and advocate federal and state regulators to continue to establish PFAS water quality standards and testing requirements. But there are also choices we can make on the individual level to reduce our exposure to PFAS in order to protect ourselves and our families. You can take simple steps such as:

  • Filtering your drinking water using activated carbon or reverse osmosis systems
  • Transitioning from plastic containers to glassware or steelware
  • Avoiding nonstick cookware or stopping use of nonstick cookware at the first sign of deterioration
  • Avoiding grease repellent food wrappers
  • Avoid applying stain repellent sprays to furniture or clothing
  • Monitoring the types of fish consumed

Through taking simple steps in our daily lives and lobbying our lawmakers and regulators to institute additional protections from PFAS compounds, we can keep ourselves and our communities markedly safer from the dangers of forever chemicals.

To learn more about the threats posed by PFAS and other microplastics and what we can do to reduce our exposure, listen to RTI International’s Dr. Imari Walker-Franklin speak on the American Chemical Society’s Tiny Matters Podcast and be on the lookout for her upcoming book, Plastics, arriving in August 2023.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Imari Walker-Franklin (Research Chemist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.