Forever Chemicals in Our Water
Hearing that there are potential toxins in the water you and your family drink is alarming.
Almost as alarming?
That these chemicals have existed since 1940, and studies since 1950 have shown how they can build up in the blood to the point they cause health risks.
Fortunately, action is being taken to make sure that the future is safer and healthier for all of us. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced steps to regulate forever chemicals in our drinking water.
Still, that announcement raises as many questions as it answers when it comes to our health and safety. That’s why we’re answering a few of the most pressing questions about these chemicals below, including how you and your family can work to protect yourselves.
What Exactly Are Forever Chemicals?
The most widely used and known chemicals in this group are Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS).
They are called forever chemicals because they essentially do not break down in the body and remain in the environment.
This group of chemicals was first created in the 1940s as a way to waterproof tanks. In the 1950s, companies discovered an even wider range of commercial uses for them, thanks to their water-repellant and heat-resistant qualities.
Why Are Forever Chemicals Dangerous?
The danger, then, of chemicals that remain in the environment is how easily they can spread. The EPA has found traces of PFAs in water, air, fish, and soil all around the world.
That means even for people that aren’t living near a suspected contamination site for PFAS, the affected components can travel beyond it. That impact can even be found in our food and water supply.
Because forever chemicals can’t be broken down by our bodies, each exposure to them puts us at risk.
Of the thousands of forms of PFAS, their qualities and toxicities all differ, according to the EPA.
The reported health concerns include:
- Reproductive effects, including decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women
- Developmental effects in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes
- Increased risk of cancers like prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers
- Reduced immune system response to fight infections, and reduced vaccine response
- Interference with the body’s natural hormones
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Risk of obesity
What Steps Is The EPA Taking To Regulate Them?
The EPA’s current strategy includes restricting PFAS from being released into the environment, accelerating the cleanup of contaminated sites and increasing investments.The latest proposed law aimed at this has $10 billion earmarked to counteract forever chemicals. In doing so, they hope to learn more about how to prevent their spread.
These action steps will also include setting limits on PFAS in drinking water and for manufacturers to report on just how toxic their products are. The expected timeline for these new restrictions is set for 2023.
What Products Are Known To Contain Forever Chemicals?
Beyond their original military uses, which have led to groundwater contamination of at least 385 military sites, there are many commercial uses, too.
One common product is the Teflon used in non-stick pots and pans. Unfortunately, when these pots and pans are scratched, the chemicals can get into the food being prepared.
Here are some additional uses of forever chemicals:
- Medical equipment like masks, surgical gowns, and drapes
- To make clothing waterproof and stain-resistant
- For more resilient outdoor activity gear
- In food storage containers, including pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags
- In the manufacturing of cell phones and semiconductors
- Used in household products, like making floss glide more easily
- For use in fire extinguishers
Unfortunately, as their use has become more widespread, so has the list of contaminated sites. New data shows at least 2,800 sites in all 50 states.
Though the government is taking action, concerned families may be wondering what they can do now to protect themselves.
What Can Consumers Do To Protect Themselves?
There are a number of ways consumers can take steps to protect themselves and their families.
- Stay Informed – The government is taking steps to take forever chemicals more seriously. In addition to following the EPA’s guidelines, consumers can follow the Food & Drug Administration’s page. The information includes testing food for PFAS, environmental contamination connected to food, and authorized uses.
- Be Active – In 2020, state legislatures considered more than 180 bills related to PFAS, including those focused on restricting PFAS in firefighting foam and consumer products, regulating PFAS in drinking water, and appropriating funds for remediation activities. That’s an increase from over 100 bills in 2019. For those wanting to make a difference soon,
- Protect Their Home – In addition to considering the products they buy and the food they consume, families can protect their drinking water. With upgraded drinking water systems, water filtration systems, and other water treatment options, consumers can effectively remove PFAS and protect themselves from the associated risks.