Read the full article by Joe Fassler (Wirecutter)
“Here’s the bad news: Forever chemicals are everywhere. These toxic compounds, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are often used in goods that resist water and grease like packaged foods, cookware, furniture, and outdoor apparel.
PFAS exposure has been linked to a host of health risks, from cancer to fertility issues, and its prevalence in consumer goods means that PFAS are now routinely found in soil, drinking water, our homes, and our bodies.
The good news is that though no one can avoid PFAS entirely, you can take specific actions to reduce exposure and risk to your long-term health.
How to reduce PFAS exposure
Experts say that no single product is likely to expose you to dangerous PFAS levels in one use. But because PFAS are so common and build up in the body over time, it’s worth figuring out when you absolutely need or want the slickness these chemicals provide and avoiding it elsewhere.
Since some items and behaviors are much more likely than others to expose you to higher levels of PFAS, being vigilant in the few areas you can control may reduce your overall risk.
The experts we spoke with suggest focusing on three main categories—nonstick cookware, greaseproof food packaging, and water- and stain-resistant goods—and considering an investment in a water filter.
- Avoid cooking tools that contain PFAS. Most nonstick cookware today contains some form of PFAS. If you’d like to lower your overall exposure, cast-iron, stainless steel, and ceramic pots and pans are a better option. Avoid using nonstick cookware that has been kicking around for a decade or more.
- Reduce how often you eat out of paper, cardboard, and plant fiber packaging. For now, that includes so-called compostable bowls and plates without the Biodegradable Products Institute logo—though more alternatives are starting to emerge. Pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags also tend to contain lots of PFAS to minimize grease stains.
- Get a water filter, especially if you live in an area where PFAS contamination is known or suspected. Look for one that’s NSF certified to filter out high levels of two types of PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) from entering your body via the tap. Three of our recommendations meet that criteria: the Aquasana AQ-5200, the A.O. Smith AO-US-200, and the Aquasana AQ-5300+ Max Flow.
- Avoid textiles that advertise their waterproof and stainproof qualities, but don’t claim to be PFAS free—whether its wall-to-wall carpeting, upholstered furniture, down jackets, hiking boots, or underwear. You may decide you need some of these performance fabrics occasionally, so be strategic about how often you buy them. Though companies are rapidly seeking new ways to make goods moisture resistant, these items are still mostly made with PFAS.
Vigilant consumption has a crucial side-benefit, too: Buying PFAS-free goods sends a message that this topic matters to you and can motivate the industry to develop new alternatives.
What are PFAS?
The term PFAS refers to a class of more than 4,000 compounds used in industry and consumer goods. These substances vary in their chemical makeup, but it’s widely assumed they can stick around for centuries without biodegrading.
That stubborn quality makes PFAS incredibly useful. Items treated with PFAS can become highly water- and grease-resistant, which is why these chemicals tend to be most prevalent in stuff that’s designed to stay clean and dry: cookware, carpeting, outdoor gear, cosmetics, pizza boxes, bags of microwave popcorn. In recent years, PFAS have been found in everything from so-called compostable takeout bowls to period underwear.
As a class, these chemicals tend to be divided into two subgroups depending on their number of carbon atoms: long chain and short chain. Long-chain PFAS are an older technology (the PFOA used in Teflon pans is the most famous example), and because they’re older, they’re better understood, and their risks have been more clearly established. Some of the most concerning and widespread versions are being rapidly phased out in the United States. Scientists have some reason to believe that short-chain PFAS may be more benign. But they haven’t been as thoroughly studied, and their use is on the rise.
What are the health and environmental risks?
What we know about PFAS and health is still evolving, and only a few compounds out of more than 4,000 have been reviewed for potential health impacts.
Scientists have linked various PFAS to a range of negative outcomes, including higher cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, impaired thyroid function, reduced immune response in children (including decreased responsiveness to vaccines), pregnancy-related hypertension and preeclampsia, lower birth weights, liver disruption, and cancer (specifically kidney and testicular cancers).
People are primarily exposed to PFAS via ingestion and inhalation. The most severe clusters of PFAS-related health ailments have been around factories and other institutions that produce or use the chemicals at high concentrations. However, because PFAS are easily carried by water, they’ve been found in oceans, lakes, streams, reservoirs, municipal drinking water, and precipitation on every continent, including in remote Arctic ice. Scientists have found PFAS in the bodies of hundreds of animal species, as well as plants, which means they inevitably make their way back up the food chain toward humans.”…