PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals, face increased scrutiny and are considered a major public health challenge. How can you reduce your exposure?
Here’s a quick Q&A, based on information provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
What are they?
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals found in firefighting foam, furniture, clothes, cookware, cosmetics, carpet coating, food packaging and other products.
There are more than 9,000 known PFAS chemicals. They’ve been used since the 1940s to resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.
They’re easily ingested by people and animals, spread in air and water, and don’t break down for thousands of years. Most Americans have low but measurable levels in their blood.
What are the health risks?
Scientists are studying the health effects, which can include liver damage, high cholesterol and pregnancy problems. A 2018 CDC report linked 14 PFAS chemicals to cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease and liver damage. Colorado health officials say that, because children drink more water than adults, they may be at higher risk.
How do PFAS spread?
Some industrial sites release PFAS chemicals into the air, as well as wastewater that reaches rivers. PFAS chemicals also can sink through the soil into groundwater or spill into surface water. Firefighters who train with toxic firefighting foams also have been a source.
Can I remove PFAS from my drinking water?
City water supply treatment systems can remove or at least reduce PFAS contamination of drinking water. You can ask your water provider about their tests for PFAS.
Household reverse-osmosis water treatment systems that are installed under sinks can remove PFAS, state health experts say, but boiling water won’t do it.
If your water comes from a well and you live near potential sources of PFAS, test your groundwater. If levels exceed 70 parts per trillion (the federal benchmark for safety), health officials say you should rely on bottled water or water treated using a reverse osmosis system.
Noncontaminated water is especially important for bottle-fed infants and women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding.
Do I need a blood test?
Medical professionals can measure PFAS chemicals in your blood. But it isn’t a routine test, and the chemicals show up at miniscule levels in most blood samples. Colorado health officials don’t recommend testing your blood unless you are participating in a study.
The tests can show whether your blood level is lower or higher than the levels in the general population. At present, PFAS blood test results cannot establish whether PFAS chemicals caused your health problems.
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