Last Tuesday I attended a free webinar hosted by the Green Science Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that provides scientific data to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations. The Green Science Policy Institute has played a great role in testing chemicals used in consumer products without prior proper safety tests (for more information on the Green Science Institute, go to my Resources page). If you are a regular reader, you probably remember my recent post about the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, a toothless law that allows thousands of chemicals to be used in consumer products without understanding how they will affect our health and the health of our children. The webinar that I attended focused on fluorochemicals.
Fluorochemicals and Their Dangers
Fluorochemicals are a large number of chemicals that have not been fully studied like most chemicals currently on the US market. The webinar speaker, Dr. Jennifer A. Field, Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, focused on the most studied fluorochemicals – PFOA and PFOS. The studies showed that these two fluorochemicals are associated with multiple adverse health effects, such as elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, reduced immune response in children and kidney, prostate, ovarian, and testicular cancer to name a few. The fluorochemicals are also persistent and bioaccumulative, which means that once they get into our bodies, they stay there for a long time, and they do not break down in the environment easily. (The emerging studies on other fluorochemicals have shown similar results.)
Besides being resistance to breakdown in the environment and under harsh conditions, fluorochemicals are oil and water repellent. Because of their oil and water repellency, fluorochemicals found a very wide application in consumer products. Fluorochemicals are used in clothes, upholstery, food packaging, non-stick cookware, carpeting, and in ski and floor waxes. Do you have a stain resistant couch? If so, you can probably “thank” fluorochemicals.
The speaker showed a chart of fluorochemical sources and exposure pathways. In short, there are two pathways for us to get exposed to fluorochemicals. One way is through water, air, and soil that get contaminated as a result of the manufacture of fluorochemicals and the disposal of products that contain them. The other way of exposure is through products that contain them directly. Fluorochemicals are volatile and semi-volatile compounds, which mean that they off-gas (evaporate into the air) and migrate out of the product and settle into dust. I asked the speaker how long fluorochemicals off-gas or migrate out of products and the short answer is that we do not know for sure but for years.
Take Home Points About Fluorochemicals
The webinar ended with take home points such as (1) think about whether fluorochemicals are in products we manufacture, sell, or use and (2) whether their use is necessary. As you can guess, currently there are no labeling requirements for fluorochemicals. BPA used to be undisclosed, but after public outcry, it has been taken out of a lot of consumer products.
I believe that despite the fact that we can’t fully protect ourselves from fluorochemicals no matter how much we try, we as consumers can definitely reduce our exposure to them now and affect the positive change in the future. Here is how we can do that:
- Buy products with water and oil repellent properties only when absolutely necessary;
- Start asking manufacturers whether their products have fluorochemicals and tell them that you buy only fluorochemical-free products;
- Clean your house regularly with damp rags and a HEPA vacuum, especially if you have crawling babies and toddlers who put everything in their mouths;
- Wash you hands frequently;
- Air out your dwelling daily (fluorochemicals off-gas and contaminate your indoor air) and/or get an air-purifier;
- Do not use non-stick cookware (fried food is bad for you anyway);
- Install a filter for your drinking water and bath;
- Eat less packaged food and do not eat microwaved popcorn as fluorochemicals are in the lining of the popcorn packaging;
- Get rid of old things you do not use as they continue off-gassing fluorochemicals; and
- Remove your shoes before you walk into your house (and make sure everyone else does so, too), because all kinds of toxins, including fluorochemicals, are tracked on the bottoms of our shoes, and you will reduce your family’s exposure with this one simple tip.
The next seminar is on anti-microbials (e.g. triclosan). It is next Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 11 am PDT. You can sign up to it or to the whole series of 7 remaining webinars at http://www.sixclasses.org. They are 30 minutes each, you will get material by email, and the webinars are absolutely free.
If your schedule does not permit you to take the webinars, subscribe to my blog so you know when my next post is added. And I will keep you informed. I can also email you the webinar’s power point presentation and handout.