Exposure to PFAS difficult to limit as California moves to ban them in some products

California is cracking down on the use of toxic “forever chemicals,” banning their use in food packaging and children’s products such as cribs, car seats and changing pads.

The new laws regulating the use of PFAS, which are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment or the human body, take effect in 2023. PFAS have been linked to serious health concerns such as fetal development issues, birth defects cancer, liver damage, immune system disruption, resistance to vaccines, thyroid disease, impaired fertility and high cholesterol.

The California law restricting PFAS in products for babies and children under age 12, applies to new items and will require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative available.

California is now the seventh state to ban PFAS from disposable food packaging, utensils and paper straws. Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington have all banned PFAS from food packaging. The new law will also require cookware manufacturers to disclose the presence of all hazardous chemicals, including PFASs, on their labels starting in January 2024.

PFAS have been used in commercial production since the 1940s to make surfaces resist stains, water, heat and grease. They are found in firefighting foams and are widely used by the military to suppress flammable liquid fires. PFAS are also used in consumer products such as pizza boxes, fast food containers, nonstick cookware, cleaning products, cosmetics, water-resistant clothing, and stain-resistant coatings on carpets and other fabrics.

Nearly every U.S. resident has PFAS in his or her body, with studies finding PFAS in blood, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, placenta, and other tissues. People can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with the chemicals.

Because of the proliferation of and wide exposure to PFAS, avoiding them is very difficult, experts say.

“You cannot avoid them as they are ubiquitous in products and the environment,” Keith Vorst, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University, told Healthline. 

But the most obvious way to limit exposure to PFAS is to stay away from products that contain them, in particular, waterproof and stain-resistant textiles and clothing. To avoid purchasing clothing with PFAS, check labels for materials like Gore-Tex or Teflon, which could signal that the chemicals were used in the fabric.

Cosmetics were also found to contain PFAS. In 2018, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found PFAS in beauty products that included foundation, concealer, hairspray and eyeliner. The research relied on data from the Environmental Working Group, which examined 75,000 cosmetics and personal care products, nearly 200 of which contained PFAS. The EWG has made its database public so consumers can research products on their own.

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