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What do you rarely get when you put 200 scientists from 40 countries in a room to discuss something? A concensus! But when it comes to the chemicals that make things stain-resistant and nonstick these scientists agreed that these chemicals are bad for your health.
Called the Madrid Statement and released in May 2015, this agreement calls on scientists, governments, and chemical and product manufacturers to protect us from poly- and perfluoroalkyl chemical substances (PFSs) exposure.
PFAS stands for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are a class of chemicals used to make things stain and stick resistant. PFAS's are molecules made up of carbon chains to which fluorine atoms are bound. Fluorine adds the slippery quality.
Because these man-made chemicals resist heat, water and oil, they are in products like food packaging, stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints and cleaning products. Oil of Olay even includes it in some of their wrinkle creams!
Due to contamination from industries and military bases, drinking water is also an important source of exposure. In fact, drinking water now rivals food as a source of exposure to PFAS's, like PFOA and PFOS.
And because they're made to be resistant, it means that this group of compounds doesn't degrade easily. So, they persist in the environment and in you.
The two most common forms of PFAS’s are:
PFOA and PFOS aren't made in the US anymore. But, they are still produced internationally and can be imported in things like carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.
And, because they are persistent organic pollutants that takes many years to break down, PFASs will continually circulate through our bodies, the environment and the food chain.
Also, the chemicals that are replacing PFOA and PFOS can be just as toxic to your health. For example, PFOA has been replaced by PFBS, a sister to PFOA, which probably breaks down into PFOA.
In other words, the newer short-chain versions of PFASs that are replacing the older long-chained ones, are also hazardous to your health.
Plus, there are many other PFASs, including GenX chemicals and PFBS, that are proving to be toxic to your health.
According to the EPA "GenX is a trade name for a technology that is used to make high performance fluoropolymers (e.g., some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)".
You're exposed to this dangerous chemicals when you wear stain-resistant, water-repellent and wrinkle-free clothing and sit on furniture and carpeting that was treated with PFAS.
Stain-resistant carpeting and furniture can also contaminate your indoor air with PFAS just like cooking with nonstick pans. Food packaging (microwave popcorn, pizza boxes, fast food containers) is also a source of exposure.
PFASs are also used as surfactants (substance that reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out, rather than collecting in droplets) in shampoo, dental floss and denture cleaners. Plus, they are used in making some types of plastic.
You are exposed to PFAS's by:
Because PFAS stays in your body for long periods of time, it can really damage your health.
The most commonly studied PFAS's, PFOA and PFOS, can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. And, both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies.
Human studies have reported that exposure to these toxic chemicals can increase cholesterol levels, affect infant birth weights and your immune system and cause cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).
To Avoid PFASs in Your Food:
Reduce your consumption of:
High fat foods because it's stored in body fat
Do Not Use:
Nonstick pots, pans bakeware and utensils
Small Appliances that are nonstick
Personal care products (dental floss, cosmetics, nail polish, face cream) containing ingredients that include the words ” fluoro” or ”perfluoro.”
To find out if PFAS's are a problem in your drinking water go here. If it is a problem in your area there are several water filter pitchers and sink mount options that remove PFOA and PFOS. Other types of PFASs haven't been tested.
Avoid clothing, carpets and other textiles that are:
Don't Use Protective Sprays
Avoid using spray fabric treatments (basically PFAS in a can) that make your upholstery, carpets, clothes and shoes stain-resistant and waterproof. You'll not only breathe in the toxins but after application you can absorb them through your skin.
Need some convincing? Here's the health information from the Material Data Safety Sheet for Scotchgard™ Fabric Protector.
Immediate health, physical, and environmental hazards: Aerosol container contains flammable gas under pressure. Closed containers exposed to heat from fire may build pressure and explode. Extremely flammable liquid and vapor. Vapors may travel long distances along the ground or floor to an ignition source and flash back. May cause target organ effects.
Central Nervous System (CNS) Depression: Signs/symptoms may include headache, dizziness, drowsiness, lack of coordination, nausea, slowed reaction time, slurred speech, giddiness, and unconsciousness.
Take a Non Toxic Approach to Stains
Stains happen. If you're going to avoid PFASs you'll need a non toxic way to deal with them. But don't blow your efforts to reduce your toxin exposure by using store bought stain removers. They are notoriously toxic.
There are only two off-the-shelf options that are rated with an A by EWG.
You can also make your own using pantry ingredients. The book Grandma's Natural Cleaning and Stain Removal Secrets is a good resource. A free resource on stain removal can be found here. Some of the suggestions on this website are not non toxic though.
Products that are nonstick and stain-resistant are so convenient. You can cook without the messy cleanup or easily blot up spilled wine on your carpet. But there are 200 scientists from 40 countries who will tell you that this convenience comes at a dangerous cost to your health. Is it worth the risk?