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By now, you’ve probably heard the term “forever chemicals.”
Known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, these man-made chemicals are now found at detectable levels in almost every person in the United States.
A whopping 19 million Americans are even stuck with drinking water that comes from systems known to be contaminated with PFAS.
And if you think this chemical danger is something new, you’d be wrong. PFAS have been around since the 1940s.
That means, based on findings from the Keck School of Medicine, most of us have been around long enough to have experienced a certain window of time in which PFAS do their damage and set us for disease later in life…
The truth behind their ‘forever’ name
But before we jump into those dangers, let’s go over just what these man-made time bombs truly are.
PFAS are carbon atoms, surrounded by fluorine atoms. Because carbon plus fluorine is one of the strongest chemical bonds known in nature, they simply never break down.
And that’s not an exaggeration.
Once PFAS are in your bloodstream, they are truly there to stay. In fact, over time they even continue to accumulate in your body.
The window when PFAS damage sets up disease
So how do these toxic chemicals lead to disease? Those Keck researchers answered that question…
The team used blood samples collected from 312 adolescents and 137 children to determine which PFAS were in their bodies, and what exactly they were doing to their natural biological processes.
PFAS are already known to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals, meaning they alter how hormones are meant to function.
And because children and young adults are going through critical stages of development, they may be more susceptible to the negative health effects of PFAS exposure. It is also during this time that many diseases that manifest in adults take root, so it provides a clear picture of how these toxins can lead to disease.
Overall, the researchers found that all the children and adolescents had a mixture of several common PFAS in their blood including PFOA and PFOS (which have earned a water health advisory from the EPA).
“Our findings were surprising and have broad implications for policy makers trying to mitigate risk,” said Jesse A. Goodrich, PhD, assistant professor of population and public health sciences and lead author of the study. “We found that exposure to a combination of PFAS not only disrupted lipid and amino acid metabolism but also altered thyroid hormone function.”
This was especially concerning because changes in thyroid hormones play an important role in child development during puberty, which can have significant effects on disease risk later in life.
Is PFAS protection possible?
The question then becomes whether or not there’s anything that can be done to protect yourself from forever chemicals.
The first step is to cut down on exposure…
For example, look for personal care products and cosmetics made without these chemicals whenever possible. For help on products and safer choices visit The Environmental Working Group website.
Skip take-out boxes, fast food wrappers and even microwave popcorn. Make fresh food at home instead, using an old-fashioned iron skillet rather than a non-stick pan.
While you might not be able to avoid PFAS completely, the threat is too serious not to try.
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