Think the only bad-for-you ingredient in this box of pizza is the pepperoni? Think again. (Photo: Getty Images)
Hundreds of environmental scientists have joined forces to begin a public campaign to urge countries around the world — including the United States — to limit their use of a class of chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs.
While one type of this chemical has been banned for years — studies had shown that the PFAS formerly found in Teflon products may have contributed to higher risks of cancer — scientists have reason to believe that the replacement PFASs could also be toxic.
And, according to the scientists, this is a huge cause for concern, since these chemical are found in thousands of products used in everyday life by millions of consumers.
PFASs enable objects to be resistant to high temperatures, ultimately increasing durability and in some cases, preventing fires in wiring and gauges found in vehicles such as cars and planes. A few of the other items that contain these PFASs include pizza boxes, sleeping bags, electronics (like cell phones and hard disk drives), as well as backpacks, footwear and even hospital equipment (it can be found in stents, needles and pacemakers, along with hospital gowns and divider curtains). A complete list can be found here.
“Research is needed to understand the potential for adverse health effects from exposure to the short-chain PFASs, especially regarding low-dose endocrine disruption and immunotoxicity,” wrote the authors Linda S. Birnbaum, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program and Philippe Grandjean, from the Harvard School of Public Health, in an article published in the recent edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“In parallel, research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs. The question is, should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment? And, in the absence of indisputably safe alternatives, are consumers willing to give up certain product functionalities, such as stain resistance, to protect themselves against potential health risks? These conundrums cannot be resolved by science alone but need to be considered in an open discussion informed by the scientific evidence,” wrote the authors.
However, the American Chemistry Council states that these chemicals were deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. “But we just believe based on the 10-year history of extensive studies done on the alternatives, that the regulatory agencies have done their job of determining that these things are safe for their intended uses,” Thomas H. Samples, DuPont’s head of risk management for the division that manufactures these chemicals, told The New York Times. DuPont is one of the lead manufacturers of this chemical.
“It’s likely they’re going to have some health effects, it just may take us a while to figure out what it is,” said Thomas F. Webster, a professor of environmental health at Boston University’s school of public health, also told The New York Times. “It might take five or 10 years to really do the research.”