We’ve been hearing a lot about the chemicals PFOA and PFOS and their link to cancer. But what do they mean? And how can we protect ourselves against exposure? Let’s start by discussing these chemicals, what we know about them, and where to learn more.
PFAS is a family of chemicals used in industrial and commercial products. According to an article published on the NCBI website, they include nearly 15,000 synthetic chemicals. They are found in many household items, including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foams, and water-repellent clothing.
They can also be detected in drinking water sources near military bases or industrial sites where PFAS are used in processes like:
- Manufacturing processes.
- Wastewater treatment plants that discharge into surface waters.
- Groundwater aquifers beneath these facilities.
- Livestock feedlots where animals may have been exposed to contaminated water supplies
- Sediments that settle on the bottom of lakes and ponds after being washed off the soil by rainwater runoff
- Fish tissue from areas where PFAS has been released into soil or surface water environments
These chemicals have been linked to health effects, including cancerous tumours in laboratory animals and even humans.
PFAS are everywhere. They’re in the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. In fact, the very source of the water you drink also has PFAS. According to a recent study, water systems in at least 50 states are filled with PFAS.
And not just humans are exposed to them; these chemicals can also be found in animals and fish. Where do PFAS come from?
The first step towards understanding how PFAS affect health is knowing where they come from. They can be released into the environment when PFAS products break down or are disposed of improperly. Concerns about contamination near military bases have led to more research on this topic.
As you may have heard, PFASs are linked to breast, testicular, liver, kidney, and other cancers.
Scientists are unravelling the mechanisms through which PFAS exposure may contribute to cancer. One key factor is the ability of PFAS to accumulate in human tissues over time. When ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, these chemicals accumulate in the body. They mainly accumulate in the liver, disrupting normal cellular processes.
PFAS chemicals have been found to interfere with the body’s delicate balance of hormones and other regulatory molecules. This disruption can lead to abnormal cell growth and division, a hallmark of cancer development. Additionally, PFAS may induce oxidative stress and DNA damage within cells, increasing the risk of mutations that can eventually result in cancer.
Epidemiological studies provide compelling evidence of the PFAS-cancer connection. Research has identified higher cancer rates in communities exposed to elevated levels of PFAS contamination. This is especially evident in those living near industrial facilities or military bases where PFAS-containing firefighting foam has been used.
Specific types of cancer, such as testicular, kidney, and thyroid, have consistently been associated with PFAS exposure. Several studies over time have shown a connection between PFAS and cancer.
According to a recent study published in the BMC Journal, PFAS can also reduce the survival rate among cancerous people. The study concludes that the 5-year survival rate of the studied patients was 88% among those not exposed to PFAS. However, exposed patients had a survival rate of only 83.7%.
This PFAS-cancer relation has given rise to numerous lawsuits, especially among firefighters using Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). AFFF contains PFAS, and firefighters are constantly exposed to it.
According to TorHoerman Law, many firefighters using AFFF developed prostate, testicular, kidney, and other cancers due to PFAS exposure. The website also states that several firefighters have filed lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers. They allege that the manufacturers didn’t warn them about the potential health effects.
The number of lawsuits has kept increasing over the past several months. The latest AFFF lawsuit update is that Tyco Fire Protection Products has decided not to produce or sell AFFF from June 2024.
Additionally, Kentucky took legal action against AFFF manufacturers like 3M, DuPont, Chemours, and others. These companies were held accountable for releasing PFAS contaminants into the environment within the state.
In addition to cancer, PFAS has also been linked to various other health effects. These include:
- Thyroid disease. Studies suggest that women with higher levels of PFAS in their blood are more likely to develop thyroid disease than those with lower levels. Women exposed during pregnancy were more likely than unexposed women to give birth before 37 weeks gestation.
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes include preterm birth and low birth weight babies. Additionally, some types of congenital defects may occur in children born after maternal exposure during pregnancy.
If you are concerned about your exposure to PFAS, talk to your doctor. The best way to determine whether or not you have been exposed is through blood tests.
The serum or plasma concentrations of the seven PFAS are mainly considered. Patients whose results show a PFAS blood concentration of less than two ng/mL are not expected to have adverse health effects.
Nonetheless, such tests are relatively uncommon in most regions, particularly when there are no identified nearby sources releasing PFAS into the environment.
If you have a high risk of exposure, it might be worth getting tested for the chemicals. You can also ask about testing. This is applicable if there’s any reason why your doctor thinks it might be helpful for them to know about this issue.
For example, if family members have been diagnosed with cancer. This occurred following their residence near a site where PFAS were used in manufacturing processes, such as Teflon production.
You can take steps to reduce your exposure to PFAS. Some of these include:
- Avoid PFAS products, such as specific waterproof clothing and stain-resistant fabrics.
- Filtering water from your tap to remove PFAS. Some filters are specifically designed for this purpose, while others may effectively remove some but not all chemicals. If you’re unsure whether or not your filter will work on these substances, it’s best to ask a professional. Many local health departments offer free water tests and information about testing methods. They can also guide the materials used in different filters.
- Over time, cleaning up contaminated sites with industrial use of these chemicals is a crucial environmental concern. This includes landfills where hazardous waste may have been dumped illegally. Some companies may have engaged in this practice to avoid paying fees related directly to society through taxes for cleaning up after themselves.
The bottom line is that you need to know more about PFAS and its health effects. The good news is that there are many ways to mitigate exposure. You can find the resources that straightforwardly explain everything about PFAS and read them. The more knowledge you have, the easier it is to mitigate exposure to PFAS.
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