Read the full article by Pandora Dewan (Newsweek)

“As part of efforts to remove toxic forever chemicals from their products, manufacturers around the world are scrambling for safer replacements. However, studies have shown that some of these replacements are also dangerous and have already been detected in human urine and blood samples, household dust, and drinking water.

PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are a class of chemicals that can be found in a range of everyday products, from toilet roll to food packaging, cosmetics and dental floss. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS can lead to increased blood cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced immunity and an increased risk of certain cancers.

Traditionally, these materials have been so-called ‘long-chain PFAS,’ compounds with long strings of carbon and fluorine atoms in their structure. Shorter chain molecules—i.e. those with fewer fluorine atoms in their structure—were previously considered to be safe replacements for these longer forever chemicals, and have been steadily introduced into industrial products. However, research from the Food and Drug Administration in 2020, published in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, found that the health risks of these short-chain PFAS had been grossly underestimated.

Initial studies have shown that some ultrashort- and short-chain PFAS can have adverse effects on our reproductive system, development, livers, kidneys and fat metabolism.

In a new study, published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology reports, researchers from Emory University and China’s Southern University of Science and Technology analyzed over 300 samples of dust, drinking water, blood serum and urine from 81 people and their homes in the U.S. In total, 39 fluorinated compounds were detected, including ultra-short and short-chain PFAS.

‘This indicates that the ultrashort chain PFAS are now present in the indoor environment, water and human blood at elevated levels exceeding or comparable to the legacy PFAS,’ study co-author Amina Salamova, from Emory University, told Newsweek. ‘The fact that we found the ultrashort-chain PFAS at levels higher than or comparable to the legacy PFAS were very surprising to us.’

In their paper, Salamova and her co-authors Guomao Zheng and Stephanie Eick explained that these smaller compounds have become widespread as they can easily slip through filters for drinking water and travel long distances as household dust. Short-chain PFAS have also been detected in the environment, in snow, groundwater, soil and rain, traveling through seawater and ending up in the remotest places. Previous studies have also detected these molecules in breast milk.

In total, the team believe that roughly 20 percent of the short-chain PFAS in the participants’ bodies came from household dust and drinking water, with the remainder potentially coming from environmental sources and consumer products. However, because we are still unsure of the sources of these chemicals, it is hard to know how to avoid them.

‘In general, avoiding products with PFAS, such as PFAS containing fabric treatments, kitchenware and cosmetics could be a way to decrease your exposure,’ Salamova said. ‘Studies like this are important because they provide data on other PFAS present in our environment and our bodies. Even though we don’t know much about the sources or toxicities of these ultrashort chain PFAS, this study shows that these compounds are accumulating in the built environment, water, and human bodies and they should be investigated further.'”