Health Effects Caused by Exposure to PFAS

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that chemicals lurk everywhere in today’s world. While we do not want to scare you, there is one chemical that is hiding around us. Yes, we are talking about PFAS, which is ubiquitous.

Often dubbed as forever chemicals, PFAS lurk in almost everything that we use in our daily lives. Be it personal care products, food containers, non-stick pans, or the fish we eat, forever chemicals are everywhere. No surprises, 98% to 99% of people have PFAS in their bodies.

What makes PFAS a matter of concern is that it doesn’t disintegrate. That means it stays in our bodies and builds up over time. Numerous studies have linked forever chemicals to a number of worrisome health effects. We’ll highlight a few of them in this article, so continue reading!

PFAS Chemicals: An Overview

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a group of large, complex synthetic chemicals used in industrial and commercial products.

This class of man-made chemicals is what makes consumer goods resistant to grease, water, and stains. Besides household items, PFAS are used in construction, aerospace, electronics, firefighting, and military industries.

Health Effects of PFAS

Current scientific research has linked PFAS exposure to adverse health effects. It’s postulated that exposure to PFAS, even at extremely low levels (parts per quadrillion), is toxic. We’ve discussed a few common health issues associated with forever chemicals below:

1. Cancers

Exposure to PFAS has been linked with cancer. Studies have found that individuals who have cancer have high levels of PFAS in their bodies. In laboratory animals, exposure to forever chemicals is found to increase their risk of developing certain tumors of the testicles, liver, pancreas, and mammary glands (breasts).

A retrospective study on prognosis and histological features has linked PFAS exposure to cancer development. Previous studies have associated exposure to forever chemicals with thyroid tumors, pancreatic and hepatocellular carcinoma, and kidney and testicular cancers. Studies have also suggested a link between prostate, bladder, ovarian, and thyroid cancer and PFAS exposure.

While contaminated drinking water and diet are major exposures to PFAS, several occupations, such as firefighting, expose people to forever chemicals. CBS News reports that PFAS found in firefighting gear could be the reason behind the rising cancer cases among firefighters.

AFFF (aqueous film-forming foams) also exposes firefighters to PFAS, reveals an article by Frontiers. Perhaps that is why firefighters are at an increased risk of developing cancer than the general population. Studies have reported elevated risks of multiple cancers in firefighters, which include prostate and testicular cancers, myeloma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

As a result, firefighters are suing AFFF manufacturers for their cancer-causing foams. In the AFFF lawsuit, plaintiffs allege that exposure to PFAS in AFFF led to several types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon, prostate, and thyroid.

3M, Tyco Fire Products, Chemours, and DuPont are the defendants in the AFFF lawsuit, reveals TruLaw. These companies are accused of failing to warn about the risks associated with using their products despite being well aware of them.

In regard to the AFFF lawsuit update, the named defendants have agreed to pay a sum of $10.3 billion to people who have sued them.

2. Male Infertility

Current epidemiological studies have discovered a link between increased exposure to PFAS and lowered testosterone and semen quality.

Reports from animal studies also implicate forever chemicals as an endocrine disruptor, meaning they alter hormone production or signaling. As testis rely on a constant influx of hormones, they are particularly vulnerable to PFAS’ endocrine disruptor effects.

A new study has found that in-utero PFAS exposure leads to low sperm count and mobility. Mothers with high levels of PFAS exposure raised men with elevated immotile sperm levels and low sperm counts. Researchers also found that forever chemicals discovered in umbilical cord blood interfere with testicle development.

3. Liver Damage

A recent study conducted by USC has linked exposure to forever chemicals with liver damage. PFAS are believed to be the reason behind the rise of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the liver.

Evidence from animal experiments demonstrates that PFAS causes metabolic alterations that result in fatty liver. Likewise, epidemiological studies have found links between forever chemical exposure and elevated levels of uric acid, triglycerides, and cholesterol. All these are biomarkers of advanced liver disease and NAFLD.

Wrapping Up

It’s clear that PFAS are detrimental to human health. Other than the health effects mentioned above, exposure to forever chemicals is linked with increased risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, thyroid disease, and low birth weight.

Eliminating PFAS completely from your daily life is impossible, but there are certain things that can be done to minimize exposure. Limiting fast food and the use of non-stick cookware, as well as installing a water filter, are a few ways to reduce your exposure to PFAS. Though small, these small actions can make a world of difference.