What are ‘Forever Chemicals’ and Can They Cause Cancer?

There are many types of harmful chemicals that have polluted our food and water sources today. Forever chemicals are a type of dangerous chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware and even found in fire-fighting foams. These harmful chemicals make their presence felt in many food sources, and there is a growing concern about these chemicals being linked to cancer. Read to learn about what are ‘forever chemicals,’ and can they be linked to cancer.

What are Forever Chemicals?

Forever chemicals are a large group of chemicals that are deemed to be dangerous to our health. 1) They are so named because of their ability to last for a really long time in the environment.(2,3) New research has found that these forever chemicals may cause cancer. Many of these forever chemicals are derived from industrial processes such as the manufacturing of nonstick coatings, such as Teflon for pans.(4,5) These commonly used chemicals have also been researched more than some of the other relatively lesser-known forever chemicals.

Researchers are now finding out that some of these forever chemicals, particularly perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to only as PFAS, have some cancer-causing attributes.(6,7) If this is the case, then it could be an extreme cause of worry, considering these forever chemicals are now found in everything from our drinking water to even the packaging used in our food.

Can Forever Chemicals Cause Cancer?

The new research study has been carried out by a research team at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in combination with Indiana University.(8) The study looked at 26 commonly used PFAs, and the research team found that all of these 26 chemicals, had at least one carcinogenic property. This means that this one property might impact the body to increase the risk of cancer.

The most well-researched forever chemicals from these 26, were found to have several carcinogenic properties. These chemicals include:

  1. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – used in the manufacturing of Teflon coating(9)
  2. Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – this was once used as an ingredient in Scotchgard stain repellent.(10)

Both PFOA and PFOS have been controversial chemicals in recent years, and several other studies have also found them to be toxic.(11,12)

It is important to note that the Environmental Protection Agency recently added over 100 PFAs to its Toxics Release Inventory List.(13) The Agency puts these chemicals on the list because they have either been found to cause cancer, have some form of significant impact on human health, or significantly impact the environment.(14)

How Can These Forever Chemicals Affect Your Health?

Apart from the increased risk of cancer, these forever chemicals can cause several other serious health issues. These include reproductive harm, liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, and even thyroid issues.(15)

Several studies have been done to determine the health impact of PFAS, out of which, the strongest evidence of such adverse health effects was found in the C8 Health Project.(16)

Lack of Regulations

Despite the potential toxicity and harmful impact on human health, there is a surprising lack of regulation for these forever chemicals. In 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency had issued a health advisory for some of the PFAS that were researched in the study mentioned above.

However, the Agency only set a lifetime exposure restriction for PFAS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This means that there should be no negative effect on your health if you drank water that contained 70 parts per trillion of PFAS every day for the rest of your life.(17)

Nevertheless, the fact is that there is no data to show what is the maximum containment levels for PFAs. This means that there is no proper regulation to check for PFAS in drinking water, and it has been left to states and local government bodies to decide the contaminant level. This is why the PFAS standards vary from state to state in the United States.(18)

Conclusion: Is It Possible To Avoid These Forever Chemicals?

If you are concerned about being exposed to such forever chemicals, then the only way to lower the adverse effects from these substances is to focus on preventing exposure in the first place. The most common place where these chemicals are found is in our drinking water. Using good quality reverse osmosis filters are known to be very effective at removing forever chemicals from your drinking water and is also recommended by the Environmental Protecting Agency.

Avoiding fast food is also another recommended simple solution to prevent exposure since many fast-food packaging is known to contain many types of PFAS.

References:

  1. Oxford Analytica, New US ‘forever chemicals’ regulations coming. Emerald Expert Briefings, (oxan-es).
  2. Diaz, L.M. and Stewart, M.R., 2019. ‘Forever Chemicals’: Forever Altering the Legal Landscape. Belmont L. Rev., 7, p.308.
  3. Witt, S., Rancis, N., Ensch, M. and Maldonado, V., 2020. Electrochemical Destruction of ‘Forever Chemicals’: The Right Solution at the Right Time. The Electrochemical Society Interface, 29(2), p.73.
  4. Lerner, S., 2018. The Teflon Toxin. The Intercept, series available online at https://theintercept. com/series/the-teflon-toxin/(accessed September 4, 2018).
  5. Brown, M.A., 2005. Key Teflon chemical: Center of lawsuits and debates. Sustainable Dev. L. & Pol’y, 6, p.66.
  6. Kotthoff, M., Müller, J., Jürling, H., Schlummer, M. and Fiedler, D., 2015. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in consumer products. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 22(19), pp.14546-14559.
  7. Herzke, D., Olsson, E. and Posner, S., 2012. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in consumer products in Norway–A pilot study. Chemosphere, 88(8), pp.980-987.
  8. Temkin, A.M., Hocevar, B.A., Andrews, D.Q., Naidenko, O.V. and Kamendulis, L.M., 2020. Application of the Key Characteristics of Carcinogens to Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(5), p.1668.
  9. Steenland, K., Fletcher, T. and Savitz, D.A., 2010. Epidemiologic evidence on the health effects of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Environmental health perspectives, 118(8), pp.1100-1108.
  10. Rodea-Palomares, I., Leganés, F., Rosal, R. and Fernández-Pinas, F., 2012. Toxicological interactions of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) with selected pollutants. Journal of hazardous materials, 201, pp.209-218.
  11. Schaefer, C.E., Andaya, C., Urtiaga, A., McKenzie, E.R. and Higgins, C.P., 2015. Electrochemical treatment of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in groundwater impacted by aqueous film forming foams (AFFFs). Journal of Hazardous Materials, 295, pp.170-175.
  12. Coperchini, F., Awwad, O., Rotondi, M., Santini, F.E.R.R.U.C.C.I.O., Imbriani, M. and Chiovato, L., 2017. Thyroid disruption by perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). Journal of endocrinological investigation, 40(2), pp.105-121.
  13. US EPA. 2020. List Of PFAS Added To The TRI By The NDAA | US EPA. [online] Available at: <https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/list-pfas-added-tri-ndaa> [Accessed 12 July 2020].
  14. US EPA. 2020. TRI-Listed Chemicals | US EPA. [online] Available at: <https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/tri-listed-chemicals> [Accessed 12 July 2020].
  15. Simon, J.A., Abrams, S., Bradburne, T., Bryant, D., Burns, M., Cassidy, D., Cherry, J., Chiang, S.Y., Cox, D., Crimi, M. and Denly, E., 2019. PFAS Experts Symposium: Statements on regulatory policy, chemistry and analytics, toxicology, transport/fate, and remediation for per‐and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination issues. Remediation Journal, 29(4), pp.31-48.
  16. Frisbee, S.J., Brooks Jr, A.P., Maher, A., Flensborg, P., Arnold, S., Fletcher, T., Steenland, K., Shankar, A., Knox, S.S., Pollard, C. and Halverson, J.A., 2009. The C8 health project: design, methods, and participants. Environmental health perspectives, 117(12), pp.1873-1882.
  17. US EPA. 2020. Drinking Water Health Advisories For PFOA And PFOS | US EPA. [online] Available at: <https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos> [Accessed 12 July 2020].
  18. US EPA. 2020. PFAS Laws And Regulations | US EPA. [online] Available at: <https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-laws-and-regulations> [Accessed 12 July 2020].

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