Bad Chemistry: Exposing Health Risks of PFCs

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Did you know that 98% of Americans have been exposed to perfluorochemicals through the water supply? What does this mean exactly?

Perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, are an industrial chemical that are persistent in humans and the environment and have been linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, damage to the immune system and elevated risk of cancer and heart disease. PFC’s are found in our drinking supply and were believed to be of little risk at low levels. However, two new published studies have provided fresh evidence of PFOA’s potential to cause harm even at low levels.

One recent study done at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine found a link between PFC levels in a woman’s body and the timing of the onset of menopause. Adjusting for other factors that can affect the timing of menopause, such as age, smoking and exercise level, the study found that increased exposures to PFCs correlated with lower levels of sex hormones — and earlier menopause.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, is the largest to date examining the health impacts of PFOA and a related PFC, perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), on the human body. It included 25,957 women between the ages of 18 and 65.

How are we being exposed?

Big pharmaceutical companies are the culprits behind the integration of PFC’s into our water supply. In March, DuPont, the behemoth chemical company whose factories have polluted groundwater in several communities in West Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey, agreed to pay $8.3 million to provide water filters for 4,800 homes in southern New Jersey.

PFC’s are also found in carpets, clothes and fast food wrappers. Popular items such as Scrotchgard and Stainmaster carry these but have agreed to phase them out by 2015.

How can we avoid these chemicals?

Until the pharmaceutical companies truly ban the use of them, our options are limited. However, you can make certain decisions that will reduce your exposure to PFC’s.

Some helpful tips include:

  1. Avoid non-stick pans. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
  2. Pop popcorn the old fashioned way on a stove-top. Microwave popcorn bags are often lined with PFC’s.
  3. Choose personal care products without “PTFE” or “perfluoro” in the ingredients. Use EWG’s Skin Deep at cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer choices.

For more solutions or to read up more on the effects of PFC’s, check out the Enviornmental Working Group’s Guide.

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