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Finally, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced drinking water standards for six PFAS (forever) chemicals.

The list includes PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, HFPO-DA (GenX), and PFBS.

Why is this a big deal, this is the first time that drinking water standards have been proposed for a new chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1996. The proposed new drinking water standards follow last year’s announcement of lifetime health advisories for four PFAS. Chemical companies sell PFAS for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments.

Health Issues:

The family of PFAS’s have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. To keep perspective, we now know that these chemicals can be toxic at extremely low levels of exposure. Much of the movement to reduce or even eliminate this class of chemicals has come from the outcry of consumers. Retailers have taken consumer sentiment as a strong signal to phase out all PFAS to prevent further contamination of our communities’ drinking water and poisoning their clients.

Where can I find PFAS’s:

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are manufactured and sold by chemical companies to be used as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments for products such as paper and textiles in our take-out containers.  They are also used in industrial processes and are released into waterways, leading to their widespread presence and because of their longevity a real issue to clean up both the soil and water. Due to their persistence and resistance to breaking down in the environment, they are commonly referred to as “forever” chemicals.

A 2022 study by an organization known as the Toxic-Free Future, have found PFAS in a majority of products labeled as stain- and water-resistant, with 72% of tested products, including those from REI and Amazon.  Another study conducted in 2021, led by scientists from Toxic-Free Future, the University of Washington, and Indiana University, discovered PFAS in all breast milk samples tested and found that the newer PFAS members can also accumulate in people. For those who are concerned with their breast milk see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s website for additional information.

Remember your take-home containers from the restaurants ? The compostable fast-food containers were designed to be more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic ones. However, a new study has demonstrated that they can release toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the air. This study was with retailers in Toronto and published in Environmental Science. Technology Letter. 2023.  The results indicate that the PFA’s used to make paper-based food packaging grease resistant, break down over time into volatile fluorotelomer alcohols and fluorotelomer methacrylates contaminating us and our environment.

This same organization’s investigative report identified a PFAS manufacturing facility as a significant source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health issues and climate change. leading to continued health risks and a burden on us as taxpayers and ratepayers to clean up the contaminated drinking water and soil.

Some state governments are taking steps to regulate PFAS’s.  New enforceable standards also known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) have been published for some of the PFAS’s found in drinking water. Ten states are on board with standards including ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, and WI with Delaware and Virginia in the process of establishing their own water standards.

The real key is to phase out PFAS in products and promote the use of safer alternatives.  Maine and Washington have granted state agencies the authority to ban PFAS in various products, while other states have enacted restrictions on PFAS in textiles, carpets, rugs, food packaging, oil and gas products, personal care products, and firefighting foam. More states will be looking to resterict PFAS’s shortly.

Good News

Some retailers have heard enough from their clients are adopting safer chemical policies to remove PFAS and along with other dangerous chemicals. Keep in mind this includes both the actual product and the packaging.  Among those who use PFAS’s in their products, outdoor and textile brands have been announcing policies to reduce and eliminate these toxins. Recently, REI joined the ranks of major retailers that have banned PFAS in all textiles and cookware they sell. This action mind you followed a nationwide campaign to make them a more responsible corporate citizen.

Some manufacturers such as Patagonia have also pledged to eliminate all PFAS from their entire product line, however from now until 2024. Speaking of outdoor brands, Columbia has committed to phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. In 2021, Polartec announced that it would eliminate PFAS in its DWR treatments across its line of performance fabrics. Lowe’s and The Home Depot are no longer selling indoor residential carpets or rugs containing PFAS, and Lowe’s has also committed to discontinuing the sale of fabric protection sprays containing PFAS. Major grocery and fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market have implemented policies that limit the use of PFAS in food packaging. As of now, more than 30 distinct retail chains, with over 150,000 stores and a combined sales revenue of over $650 billion, have pledged to eliminate or reduce PFAS in food packaging, textiles, and other products.

Take Aways:

If it says waterproof, stain resistant or water repellent be suspect and ask for details, before purchasing

Check your carpeting and outdoor gear (think Scotchguard by 3M)

Want to know what’s in your water ?  TEST NOW

Have you purchased your clothing from some of the manufacturers mentioned in our article, perhaps it’s time for new gear ?

Don’t apply waterproofing agents to your outdoor camping gear or any indoor products unless they explicitly indicate alternative safe agents. (Nikwax, as an example)

Still getting fast food with the old style of grease-free wrappers, think burgers, pizza and fries

Think about taking a glass or silicon container for your left overs from the resturnat, vs using their products.

Use the Retailer Report Card, to check on your retailer’s index of their toxins and policies