The FDA tested some common foods and found some shocking ingredients.
These chemicals known as “forever” chemicals are called PFAS (short for perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl substances). There are potential adverse health impacts associated with PFAS exposure, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer. “Forever” chemicals as know to stay in the body and environment for a long time and are resistant to clean up efforts. A study from 2007 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that PFAS chemicals could be detected in the blood of 98% of the US population.
PFAS were found in samples of sweet potatoes, pineapples, chocolate milk, baked goods, and meats. The highest levels of PFAS compounds were found in a sample of chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Although the FDA believes the levels of contamination are minimal, other agencies disagree: “Exposure in utero may have the greatest effect on developing children … and effects may last into adulthood.” According to Susan M. Pinney, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati.
“We think it is a big deal,” says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. “It’s FDA sampling showing not just contamination of food around hot spots, but contamination of food you’re going to buy in stores that nobody would suspect were contaminated,” he says.
“These concentrations in contaminated food are really highly elevated,” says Philippe Grandjean, PhD, an adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard who co-directs the STEEP Center, a federally funded project to study the chemicals. STEEP stands for Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFAS.
“I think FDA needs to take action right now, first of all to monitor this better to figure out how big is this problem across the country,” Grandjean says. “This clearly shows it’s not just a drinking water issue. It’s also a food issue.”
Linda Birnbaum, PhD, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, says she was surprised to learn of the food testing results from news reports instead of through her government partners. She, too, says the FDA’s conclusions were troubling.
In February 2019, an Action Plan was published by the EPA to to understand PFAS and reduce PFAS risks to the public.
Protect Yourself from PFAS
The most dangerous way for people to be exposed to PFAS is through drinking water, because of the way the chemicals act (and don’t degrade) in water. Eating contaminated fish is next, because of the way it concentrates in the fish. Skin and respiratory contact is said to have fewer risks for adults.
- Test your water. Free kits are available at most Home Depots. If results show contamination, it may be time to invest in a whole home filtration system. These chemicals can be absorbed into the body not just from ingestion, but also through contact from bathing.
- Read the labels. Products labeled stain- and water-resistant likely contain PFAS chemicals.
- Research your rugs and carpet. it’s stain-resistant, there’s a chemical – likely some form of PFAS – giving it that property. While PFAS from carpet is considered low-risk for most people, young children of an age to crawl or play on carpet face more risk, according to the Center for Disease Control.
- Check Food Packaging: Fast food wrappers and products like microwave popcorn and “shiny” cardboard have been among the culprits.
- Check out your cookware. Nonstick cookware, through the name brand Teflon, was made with PFOA for many years.
- Check ingredients on cosmetics. Avoid cosmetics with PTFE or any word containing “perfluor” or “polyfluor” on their ingredients list.
At this time, our best advice is to stay updated as the studies continue. It may take several years before a significant reduction in PFAS has been implemented. Awareness is key to protect you and your family from hidden chemical dangers in everyday common items.