Chances are, if you are eating food wrapped in coated food paper or using a non-stick pan, you are eating fluorochemicals. And chances are, you are exposing your body to perfluorochemicals as you breathe your indoor air as well. Is that so bad? Yes, says more than a decade of research.
And even though many PFAS are being eliminated from new products, a new paper published to the Environmental Health Prospectives journal warns about the continued and newer health risks of chemicals that have been used in food packaging, clothing, furniture, non-stick pan coatings, water repellents on clothing and found in some drinking waters.
More than 200 scientists signed the paper – called the Madrid Statement – which discusses the health risks of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These are also called perfluorochemicals These include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – an industrial chemical used as a coating in pans more specifically referred to Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and many others (see below list).
What are the proven health risks of PFAS, you ask?
• Heart disease
• Liver toxicity
• Disruption of fat metabolism
• Immune system suppression
• Endocrine system disturbance
• Hormone reduction and delayed puberty
• Nervous and mood effects
• Infant disorders including low-weight and
• Testicular cancers
• Kidney cancers
• Other multiple organ cancers
• Cerebral palsy
• Ulcerative colitis
While some of this comes from animal studies, human studies have also confirmed these findings, especially for liver, kidney and testicular cancers.
For example, a study from Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization found that PFAS chemicals in the blood were associated with liver disease and acute liver failure. They found that livers that had been transplanted had significantly higher content of PFOS and PFOA.
A number of neurological disorders have been linked to PFAS. For example, a Danish study of 83,389 infants found that PFAS exposure during pregnancy was linked to cerebral palsy in male children.
Other agencies have come together to confirm these associations and increased risks from PFAS accumulation in the body and our environment. In 2009, PFAS perfluorochemicals were listed as persistent organic pollutants under the Stockholm Convention of the United Nations.
This is important because these chemicals can build up within fat cells and other tissues in the body – where they can have the above effects over a longer period of time.
PFAS in the blood
PFAS have been found among blood samples in a number of studies. Some 98% of Americans have PFAS in our bloodstreams according to the reviews of the research. They are also being found increasingly among umbilical cord blood.
For example, a 2015 study from Denmark found that higher exposures to perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) increased the risk of miscarriage by more than 16 times. This study followed 2,874 women through their pregnancies.
Where are PFAS now?
Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) – also often referred to as perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) – have been in continuous production by chemical industrials for well over 60 years. As a result, PFAS have been found also a number of other consumer goods and products, including:
• Waterproof clothing
• Non-stick pans
• Carpet coatings
• Carpet cleaning chemicals
• Microwave popcorn bags
• Floor wax
• Waxed dental floss
• Furniture coating treatments
• Gaskets for engines
• Washers and bearings
• Hose linings for food production
• Foot ware insoles
• Industrial heat exchangers
• Plumbing seal tape
• Dental Fillings
• Industrial pollution
The latter form of exposure can be significant. For example, Emory University researchers studied a population of over 32,000 people from a region in Ohio known for its PFOA polluting industrial plants. The researchers found among this population, 2,507 instances of 21 types of cancers.
The researchers found that those with greater exposure levels to the PFOA pollution were over three times more likely to have testicular cancer and 58 percent more likely to have kidney cancer.
Fluorochemical food exposures
Non-stick pans aside, researchers tested to see if the lining of microwave popcorn bags leached fluorochemicals onto the popcorn after popping. They found that popcorn left in a microwave popcorn bag for 40 days at 4 degrees Celsius (a cold storage) left 3.2 milligrams of fluorochemicals per kilogram of popcorn.
Today, many food paper wax coatings utilize Zonyl®. This wax contains PFAS. In 2003, an Environmental Working Group report found DuPont knew their Zonyl coating leached high levels of PFOA. The reported that while DuPont asserted that PFOA that a DuPont study found that while their specifications suggested the Zonyl RP grease-resistant coating leached 0.2 parts per million of perfluorinated chemicals when heated, the coating actually leached out 0.62 parts per million. This was three times the levels permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The executive that reported this said that DuPont did not disclose the results of the study.
The EPA fined DuPont over $16 billion in 2005 due to its concealing information regarding the safety of PFAS in its range of products.
Pervasive indoor exposure – down to the dust
As chemical companies have rushed to incorporate PFASs in their consumer products and industrial practices, these chemicals are becoming pervasive to our environment.
So much so that most indoor dust now contains PFAS. Consider, for example, a study from Stockholm University in 2009. The researchers tested five cars, ten houses, ten offices and 38 apartments. They found that PFASs including PFOS and PFOA were found in dust samples from all these locations at similar concentrations. Office dust had the greatest concentration at 110 nanograms per gram. Apartment dust contained 93 nanograms per gram.
The researchers also compared dust ingestion exposure of PFAS to ingestion from diet from studies in Canada and Spain. They concluded that while diet is still our greatest route of exposure to PFAS, dust exposure is still significant.
Aren’t PFASs being eliminated?
Many PFAS – including PFOA in pans – are supposed to be phased out by the FDA beginning in 2015. Other governments around the world were faster, as they sought to eliminate use of many fluorochemicals over the past few years.
But does this mean an elimination of PFASs? According to the Madrid Group report, no. The fact is, chemical manufacturers are using a different type of PFASs – which may be just as dangerous as before as they become more pervasive.
The paper noted that many manufacturers have discontinued long-chain PFAS production and substituted shorter-chain PFAS. The scientists state in the paper that these shorter-chain PFAS may not effectively reduce PFAS exposure, because more has to be used to achieve the same effectiveness, leaving the environment and exposure relatively unchanged.
The paper calls for scientists, governments, chemical manufacturers and consumer product manufacturers to all participate in halting PFAS production and subsequent exposure for consumers. They also appeal to manufacturers to halt the development and production of so-called safer versions of PFAS – which will continue the chemical assault on our bodies.
Of course, this doesn’t include those pans, clothing, furniture and other PFAS sources that are already produced and continuing to be leaching PFAS into our indoor environments.
Ways to decrease PFAS exposure
Even if PFAS exposure from consumer products is decreased, there are still so many PFAS sources in our environment. Strategies to reduce exposure to PFASs include:
• Choose PFOA-free non-stick pans or just not using non-stick pans
• Eat more fresh foods
• Eat more bulk foods (and less wrapped foods)
• Choose natural flooring, clothing, shoes and furniture materials
• Keep the house as dust-free as possible
• Move away from regions with chemical plants
Blum A, Balan SA, Scheringer M, Trier X, Goldenman G, Cousins IT, Diamond M, Fletcher T, Higgins C, Lindeman AE, Peaslee G, de Voogt P, Wang Z, Weber R. The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs). Environ Health Perspect. 2015 May;123(5):A107-11. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1509934.
Jensen TK, Andersen LB, Kyhl HB, Nielsen F, Christesen HT, Grandjean P. Association between perfluorinated compound exposure and miscarriage in Danish pregnant women. PLoS One. 2015 Apr 7;10(4):e0123496. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123496.
Yeung LW, Guruge KS, Taniyasu S, Yamashita N, Angus PW, Herath CB. Profiles of perfluoroalkyl substances in the liver and serum of patients with liver cancer and cirrhosis in Australia. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2013 Oct;96:139-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2013.06.006.
Manzano-Salgado CB, Casas M, Lopez-Espinosa MJ, Ballester F, Basterrechea M, Grimalt JO, Jiménez AM, Kraus T, Schettgen T, Sunyer J, Vrijheid M. Transfer of perfluoroalkyl substances from mother to fetus in a Spanish birth cohort. Environ Res. 2015 Aug 6;142:471-478. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.07.020.
Liew Z, Ritz B, Bonefeld-Jørgensen EC, Henriksen TB, Nohr EA, Bech BH, Fei C, Bossi R, von Ehrenstein OS, Streja E, Uldall P, Olsen J. Prenatal exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and the risk of congenital cerebral palsy in children. Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Sep 15;180(6):574-81. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu179.
Gallo V, Leonardi G, Genser B, Lopez-Espinosa MJ, Frisbee SJ, Karlsson L, Ducatman AM, Fletcher T. Serum perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) concentrations and liver function biomarkers in a population with elevated PFOA exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 May;120(5):655-60. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104436.
Begley TH, Hsu W, Noonan G, Diachenko G. Migration of fluorochemical paper additives from food-contact paper into foods and food simulants. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2008 Mar;25(3):384-90. doi: 10.1080/02652030701513784.
Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Lauby-Secretan B, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Guha N, Mattock H, Straif K; International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of perfluorooctanoic acid, tetrafluoroethylene, dichloromethane, 1,2-dichloropropane, and 1,3-propane sultone. Lancet Oncol. 2014 Aug;15(9):924-5.
Björklund JA, Thuresson K, De Wit CA. Perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) in indoor dust: concentrations, human exposure estimates, and sources. Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Apr 1;43(7):2276-81.
Weise E. Engineer: DuPont hid facts about paper coating. USA Today. 2005
Environmental Working Group. PFOA and DuPont
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.