In 1946, Dupont Chemical introduced the world to Teflon, its newest water-resistant plastic. This coating could be applied to just about anything, granting the recipient material unheard of properties of water, stain, stick and heat resistance. By the end of the 1950s, Teflon and similar coatings were being applied liberally to just about everything. What could possibly go wrong?
The Ubiquity of PFAS
Dupont had stumbled upon polyfuoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. This new coating had obvious and immediate applications but the first commercially successful PFAS product was nonstick cookware. By the 1950s, millions of homes around the US and soon the world were eating food cooked on PFAS-coated surfaces, but it didn’t stop there.
Here’s an inexhaustive list of PFAS applications:
- Pizza Boxes
- Fast Food Packaging
- Food wrappers of all kinds
- Firefighting foam
- Insulation for Wiring
The stuff is everywhere and on everything. PFAS derive their unique properties from their carbon-fluorine bond. The bond is one of the strongest known in materials science, but this is also the source of the main problems with PFAS ubiquity. It doesn’t breakdown in the human body the way other toxins do with time. Instead, it bioaccumulates and even without further exposure, it can take over a decade to flush out.
Dangers of PFAS
PFAS entered mainstream use in two coatings : PFOS and PFOA. Studies on the effects of these two PFAS have been conducted by the FDA and participating universities for decades. The results are not good.
PFAS have been associated with such health effects as:
- Various types of cancers including testicular, liver, and pancreatic
- Weakened immunity
- Birth defects, fertility and pregnancy complications
- Endocrine Disruption
- Weight gain and cholesterol increases
- Brain fog and development delays in children
Regulating the use of PFAS has been a major challenge and no legislation nor regulation exists that explicitly forbids or limits PFAS use. PFOS and PFOA were voluntarily phased out by industry in 2000 and 2006 respectively. In their place, chemical manufacturers have synthesized 4700+ new PFAS compounds which purportedly do not carry the same health burdens and exit the body within days or weeks, not decades.
There are some studies that substantiate these claims. However, these claims are made by the FluoroCouncil, a lobbying group for chemical manufacturers. The problem is that 4700 compounds is too many for the FDA to test, and they can be synthesized by industry faster than they can be tested.
Another problem: the FDA has no set standard for PFAS exposure in drinking water. Some water tests have yielded a 50 parts per trillion concentration and the FDA has suggested that a safe concentration may be only 13 parts per trillion.
What Can You Do
- Filter drinking water. Modern filters have been shown to be effective in removing PFAS from water. This is especially important if you live near a military base, airfield, or industrial/manufacturing zone, where water sources tend to have higher levels of contamination. Between 2013 and 2015, water systems around the country were tested for six different types of PFAS chemicals. If you utilize a public water system, you can check the water quality report from those years to determine the level of PFAS exposure.
- Use products as instructed. Don’t overheat nonstick pans. Be aware of whether your cookware is dishwasher safe. Running non-dishawasher-safe PFAS-coated cookware through a dishwasher can cause PFAS to osmose into your food. Do not try to scrape every last morsel of food off of nonstick surfaces. Better yet, rediscover the joy of stainless steel or cast iron cookware. What they lack in convenience they make up for in safety.
- Avoid PFAS in everyday items. For example, a recent study discovered PFAS in Oral-B Glide dental floss. Be aware of what you’re putting in your body.
Hepure is diligently looking for new, best technologies to solve the PFAS problem. As mentioned, PFAS is non-reactive so chemical solutions are hard to come by. One solution that has shown some promise is Hepure’s persulfate which can degrade PFAS.