absorbed through the skin directly enter the bloodstream. Toilet paper containing PFAS will touch the skin, and in sensitive parts of the body with many blood vessels.
The FDA has conducted some limited testing for PFAS in food. Recently, testing of seafood samples led to the recall of some canned clams because they were found to contain concerning levels of PFAS. Previous FDA testing in food found “detectable levels of certain PFAS” in tilapia, cod, fish sticks, shrimp, canned tuna, protein powder, and ground turkey. Despite bland reassurances, it is clear the FDA has no idea of the scope of the problem. The agency states, “Foods that are associated with areas of environmental contamination may or may not pose a risk.”
The EPA seems even more unconcerned about PFAS contamination. We reported recently that the agency has adopted a “working definition” of PFAS that excludes thousands of chemicals from the PFAS classification, which will make it harder to apply safety standards to these compounds and for polluters to be held accountable in the courts.
But some are taking PFAS more seriously. In light of these and other similar reports demonstrating the breadth of PFAS contamination, NASEM recently issued a report recommending blood tests and medical monitoring for millions of Americans who live in contaminated communities, have jobs that expose them to PFAS, and those who live near commercial airports, military bases, wastewater treatment plants, farms where sewage sludge is used, landfills, or incinerators.
The report also details the links between PFAS levels in the blood and specific health concerns, concluding there is “sufficient evidence” to link PFAS exposure to kidney cancer, decreased infant and fetal growth, decreased immune response, and high cholesterol. The quotes from the authors are stunning: “We find contamination in all 50 states and at least two territories, and in over 2,800 communities across the country,”
Note, too, that the levels of PFAS we are exposed to from any one source may be small, but the danger is in the cumulative effect of all the different exposures, both known and unknown. The bioaccumulation of PFAS in the body mean that even low exposures are concerning. PFAS are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormones. A small change in hormone concentration—the equivalent of one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools—is enough to influence the human endocrine system, which impacts growth, metabolism, sleep, and other important bodily functions. Disruptions to our hormone system can lead to changes that cause disease and even death.
As a result of the pervasive use of PFAS in consumer, military and industrial products, there is now widespread contamination of PFAS in our water, air, food and soil across the world. Meanwhile, our government permits the continued use of these chemicals in spite of their extreme toxicity and turns a blind eye towards thousands of dangerous PFAS compounds. This is completely unacceptable.