What is a PFAS and how does it Impact your Community?

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A number of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) comprise of various man-made chemical substances that include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and a number of other chemicals, and they have been created and used in several different industries around the world since as far back as the 1940s. 

These chemicals are extremely persistent in the human body and environment, meaning that they don’t break down. In fact, they will accumulate substantially over time and evidence suggests that exposure to PFAS can have serious health effects on people, animals, and the environment.

PFAS are often present in:

  • Commercial household items such as water-and stain-repellant fabric, waxes, polishes, non-stick products like Teflon, and several cleaning products
  • Food that has been packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that uses it, or grown in soil and/or water that has been contaminated with it
  • Workplaces such as production facilities that use PFAS in manufacturing. These can include electronics manufacturing plants, chrome-plating facilities, etc.
  • Drinking water, especially that which is associated with a specific landfill, wastewater treatment plant, or manufacturing plant that uses PFAS
  • Living organisms such as animals, fish, and people, where they accumulate over time

While PFOS and PFOA aren’t manufactured in the US anymore, they are still being produced in other countries. This means that they could still be imported into the country by means of several consumer goods like apparel, leather, carpeting, plastic, rubber, packaging, and even some paper products. 

Health Risks Associated with PFAS

Several studies have revealed that PFAS can cause a number of kidney, liver, reproductive and developmental conditions, along with tumors. 

Other effects that can be experienced include, but may not be limited to:

  • Low birth weight in babies
  • Effects on the immune system
  • Cancer
  • Disruption of thyroid hormones
  • Disruption of liver enzymes
  • Decreased vaccine response in children

How Communities are Exposed to PFAS

There are several ways in which communities can be exposed to PFAS. For instance, people and animals can be exposed to them through the food supply that has become contaminated through:

  • Food packages that contain PFAS
  • Contaminated soil and water that is being used when growing food
  • Equipment that requires PFAS during the processing and/or manufacturing processes

It’s possible for entire communities to be exposed to PFAS when they’re released during normal use, biodegradation, or when consumer products containing them are disposed of. Individuals who work at production facilities where PFAS are used can be exposed to them during manufacturing processes or through the air that has become contaminated with them. Community drinking water supplies can become contaminated in areas where industrial facilities that use PFAS are situated. These can include airfields and oil refineries. 

The above mentioned information is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the potential risks associated with PFAS, as scientists are still in the process of studying and learning about the health effects that can be experienced as a result of being exposed to these chemical compounds over prolonged periods of time. 

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