You may have heard the term “forever chemicals” in the news lately. Maybe you heard it from the $5 million class action lawsuit with Thinx menstrual underwear,1 or the multibillion dollar lawsuit with 3M.2 But what are “forever chemicals”, and how did they get that name?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals, meaning they don’t exist naturally in our environment. For years, they have been used in consumer goods or industrial processes because of their water resistance and non-stick properties. For example, PFAS are used in non-stick pans, waterproof fabric (such as raincoats or stain-resistant rugs), and grease-proof takeout food containers. They’ve also been used in industrial goods, such as firefighting foam.

PFAS don’t break down easily, and “persist” in our environment, which is why they’re often known as “forever chemicals”. They often end up in our water supplies, meaning we get exposed to PFAS when we drink contaminated water or eat produce that was watered with contaminated water.3 Additionally, when we eat fish or wildlife that was exposed to PFAS, we can absorb their PFAS into our own bodies. This process is known as bioaccumulation.3 Finally, we can get exposed to PFAS by using products that contain the chemicals, such as skincare and cosmetics.4 Representative data from people in the United States has shown that PFAS are detected in the bodies of >99% of our population.5

Although PFAS seem scary, there are ways to protect yourself. Here are some ways to try to limit your exposure:
● Teach yourself which companies avoid PFAS in their products! You can check the PFAS
Free Products List6 or use the browser extension Clearya,7 which alerts you when you
are online shopping for products that have unsafe ingredients.
● If you are able to, swap out your non-stick cookware for stainless steel or cast-iron options. If you only have access to non-stick cookware, make sure you use soft utensils such as wood or silicone while cooking to avoid scratching your pans.
● Avoid products labeled “waterproof” or “stain resistant”. These products are often coated with PFAS. This could range from clothing items to home products such as couches and rugs.
● Avoid take-out food packaging when possible, and always remove take-out food from its packaging before reheating it.
● Make popcorn on the stove instead of microwaving it. Some microwavable popcorn bags are coated with PFAS.
● If you have access to them, use water filters in your home that filter out PFAS, such as reverse osmosis or activated carbon filters.

Most importantly, make sure you are expressing to policymakers that they need to take action to protect us from PFAS! And help your friends and community members become aware of PFAS so that they can take action to protect themselves, too.

Sources:

1. PFAS Class-Action Thinx Period Underwear Lawsuit Settled for $5 Million. Consumer
Notice, LLC. Published January 26, 2023. Accessed July 9, 2023.
https://www.consumernotice.org/news/pfas-thinx-lawsuit/
2. Multibillion-Dollar Settlement Reached In 3M ‘Forever Chemicals’ Lawsuit. Consumer
Notice, LLC. Published June 28, 2023. Accessed July 9, 2023.
https://www.consumernotice.org/news/3m-settlement-forever-chemicals-lawsuit/
3. Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet | National Biomonitoring Program | CDC. Published May 3, 2022. Accessed July 9, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html
4. Nutrition C for FS and A. Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Cosmetics. FDA.
Published online March 3, 2022. Accessed July 9, 2023.
https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas-cosmetics
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (NHANES). Updated tables, January 2019.
6. PFAS-Free Products – PFAS Central. Accessed July 9, 2023. https://pfascentral.org/pfas-
free-products/
7. Clearya: Nontoxic Shopping Made Easy! Clearya. Accessed July 9, 2023.
https://www.clearya.com