A tool developed by Carignan, Silent Spring, and Northeastern University shows how my and Ling Ling’s values compare with those of adults in the United States.
While some of the chemicals are likely to be in products in my house, the Galbraith test tells us how much fluorine is in the items, but does not identify individual PFAS compounds.
Experts I’ve spoken to said it’s also possible the chemicals are in our food, particularly fish that Ling Ling and I eat regularly. PFAS are also appearing in farm animals and crops via pesticides, contaminated sewage sludge as fertilizer, and contaminated water on farms.
In the United States, the industry is replacing the older, longer connections with a newer generation of PFAS that they claim are safer, although growing research has disproved this claim. The newer chemicals are likely to be in the recently manufactured products in my house. Tests didn’t find these chemicals in my blood, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in Ling Ling and me.
Commercial laboratories do not have the ability or the analytical standards to test our blood for more than about 40 PFAS compounds, according to Ng, but there are thousands. My blood wasn’t tested for most substitute chemicals. Many of the newer compounds may also have eluded detection by building up in our organs but not in our blood, Ng said.
And once they’re in my body, the newer compounds can be converted into the compounds that were detected in my blood, Schaider said. That is another possible explanation for my results.
This unknown adds extra layers of fear and makes me wonder if I should see my doctor for a cancer screening or a liver exam. It’s possible the chemicals are behind my high cholesterol, although the cookies and milkshakes that are part of my weekly diet might keep it going.
Trying to identify the sources of the chemicals is a little crazy and stressful. It’s just not clear how much the PFAS in each item is adding to the levels in our blood so I can’t clear the source, and that uncertainty is part of the “injustice of these chemicals,” Ng said.
“You worry because these are in your blood and may have been in your blood for a long time. So it’s hard to know if a developing health condition is caused by PFAS exposure, but that will be kept in mind, “she said.” It is fundamentally unfair that we have to deal with this so that eggs don’t stick to the pan stay.”
Most of the companies I contacted for a comment did not respond. Procter and Gamble, which uses PTFE in its Oral B Glide floss, stated that Oral B tested negative for the presence of PFAS and claimed that PTFE was not a PFAS. Chemical companies have recently started making this claim, arguing that it is safer because it does not necessarily build up in the body in the same way as other such compounds.
However, experts who spoke to me say that there isn’t enough independent science to determine whether PTFE is safe or not. PTFE was also generally considered a PFAS compound, and the EPA classifies it as such. In addition, Ng found that other PFAS compounds are used in PTFE production, which she believes is a problem.
Procter and Gamble also tested their floss using the EPA 537 method, which does not check PTFE or most of the 4,700 PFAS compounds. In contrast, our tests looked at total levels of fluorine, the chemical element used to make PFAS nearly indestructible, and gave laboratories a clearer idea of how much PFAS could be in a product. Our test showed that PTFE makes up 17 percent of B-Glide oral floss.
Peaslee told me that the PTFE levels in lines like Glide are so high that he switched to waxed floss.
How we can protect ourselves
Public health advocates and researchers say there is only one real way to protect us – a virtual ban on PFAS production.
Otherwise, there are very few useful steps we can take, although a water filtration system is a good option. PFAS can slide through many filters, but researchers at Duke and North Carolina State Universities found that reverse osmosis and two-stage filters are most effective. I purchased a Berkey filter system that the company says removes short and long chain PFAS.
I also got rid of my nonstick Teflon pots and pans, switched brands of floss, bought a different bike lubricant (although I’m not sure it’s PFAS-free), and stopped buying products that I know they were PFAS included. Instead of sweeping with a broom that stirs up dust and debris, I now use a vacuum with a HEPA filter that traps them.
Carignan said these are good steps, but people who “try to buy their way out of a problem” could get a “false sense of security”. For example, if I do not plan to stop eating out and consume animal products, I am typically exposed to PFAS in food and its packaging.
Company secrecy regarding the use of PFAS, misleading product labeling, and the ubiquity of chemicals make it nearly impossible to avoid.
“Most of us really realize this in order to get this right. [a solution] must start from a regulatory approach, ”said Carignan.
However, the current regulatory approach is ineffective. Regulators must individually test each compound in the PFAS class. It can take the government years to complete the process of legally proving that a single compound is dangerous, even though strong evidence from academic researchers suggests that PFAS are categorically harmful.
Chemical companies also often optimize the structure of existing PFAS compounds to produce dozens of “new” chemicals that they bring to market each year. Even when there is strong evidence that compounds are dangerous, the EPA has approved them and often allows chemical companies to mark these dangers as trade secrets and hide them from the public
In other words, researchers are forced into a game that is impossible to win. For this reason, proponents say the only solutions are to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals rather than on an individual basis and to ban all but essential uses as the European Union is proposing.
There is only so much an individual can do to protect themselves, Schreder said.
“The only way we can protect ourselves is to protect everyone else by getting them out of the products and cleaning up the already contaminated areas,” she said.