HomeSafetyPFAS in rainwater and food, a global ban is urgently needed

PFAS in rainwater and food, a global ban is urgently needed

The toxic chemicals PFAS (Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) - a large family of 10.000 non-naturally occurring and highly persistent chemicals, therefore known as'Forever Chemicals'- have irreversibly polluted rainwater and the environment of the entire planet.

Protecting populations from the risks related to exposure to PFAS is extremely difficult and burdensome. All the more so as their molecules have been detected in the blood and breast milk of people and wild animals around the world.

A global ban on the synthesis and use of these molecules is therefore urgent, and they must be replaced as soon as possible in the production of many everyday objects where they are still contained. Non-stick pots and pans, the packaging food in paper and cardboard, waterproof fabrics, cosmetics, electronic material (eg. smartphone), etc.

The doomsday scenario is described in a study by the University of Stockholm (Cousins ​​et al., 2022) published in Environmental Science & Technology, the magazine of the American Chemical Society. (1)

1) From Antarctica to Tibet, PFAS in rainwater

At the end of the treatment Swedes examined the findings on environmental contamination relating to 4 types of PFAS (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA), collected starting from 2010. (2) The survey shows the ubiquity of environmental pollution from PFAS, also widespread in remote areas of the planet.

Even rainwater Antarctica and Tibet have revealed the presence of PFAS at levels above the contamination limits recently established for drinking water by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, USA). 4 pg / l and 20 pg / l, respectively, for PFOA and PFOS.

2) Sweden in alarm, Italy in silence

The most populated areas and industrialized are obviously more affected by the phenomenon, as has been seen in the cases in Italy of Veneto and the Po valley, starting from Piedmont. And this is also the case in Sweden. A laboratory test conducted by Eurofins for the magazine Test fact reveals that Swedish lake shrimp have much higher levels of PFAS than those from Turkey, Spain and Egypt. (3)

Just consume 3-5 Swedish prawns to exceed the tolerable weekly intake of the 4 types of PFAS mentioned, identified by EFSA as 4,4 ng / kg of body weight. (4)

Considered that drinking water comes from these same lakes, it is not surprising that in the recent European biomonitoring HB4EU Swedish adolescents were found to be the most contaminated by PFAS, followed by French and Norwegian children. (5)

3) The forever chemicals

The feature more alarming than the PFAS is the inability to degrade. And it is therefore they are referred to as'forever chemicals'.

'Persistence is generally seen as a less immediate dangerous property than toxicity, but it is actually the key factor in losing control over pollution problems. Persistence allows chemicals to spread over great distances, causes long-term exposure, even for life, and leads to ever higher levels in the environment as long as emissions continue. 

These rising levels with high probability will sooner or later lead to negative effects', the study authors warn.

4) What harm to health

Sources of exposure the PFAS are innumerable. From the consumption of drinking water and contaminated food (where the substances they migrate also through the the packaging in water-repellent paper and cardboard) to the inhalation of contaminated air outdoors and dust in closed rooms. In addition to contact with waterproofed clothing and cosmetics (or their packaging) that contain them, as well as with electronic materials.

Established or strongly suspected health risks are increasing with the evolution of research into toxic chemicals and endocrine disruptors. Exposure to PFAS is already linked to various diseases and health problems, such as cancer, infertility, hypercholesterolemia and impaired immune system.

5) Global tender, TINA (There Is No Alternatives)

The progressive restriction and banning all PFAS on a global scale are the only solution available to prevent these toxic chemicals from continuing to poison the planet and accumulate in the bodies of humans and animals.

ChemTrust (Protecting humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals) clearly indicates the strategy to be followed, in the following terms. (6)

5.1) Responsibility of Governments

Governments must act immediately to:

  • promote the phasing out of all PFAS, at EU level and in international agreements, (7)
  • ensuring that the environment is monitored closely for a wide range of toxic PFAS chemicals,
  • work on a new protective regulation of all highly persistent synthetic chemicals.

5.2) Responsibility of the industry

The reg. CE 1907/06, so-called REACH (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals) defined limits and conditions of use of several other subgroups of PFAS.

The industry however, it continues to replace regulated PFASs with other chemicals from the PFAS family, approximately 4.500 according to ChemTrust. The overall concentration of PFAS in the environment therefore continues to increase.

The industries they must work immediately to phase out PFAS chemicals, replacing them with safer, non-PFAS alternatives.

5.3) EU legislation in progress

Five EU Member States - Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark - are working from 2020 on a proposal to restrict all PFAS at EU level, through the reform of theAnnex XV to the REACH regulation, which it is hoped will come into force in 2025.

The European Commission has in turn included in his new 'Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability'(CSS, 2020) some actions that include the phasing out of all PFAS 'in all non-essential uses'. (8)

6) Purchase and consumption choices

Customers they can mitigate exposure to PFAS - and help reduce the supply of everyday items with these dangerous chemicals - by choosing only products that guarantee their absence. In summary:

  • forgo the purchase of trays, pans and pots with 'non-stick' coatings,
  • avoid eating food from fast food e takeaway kept in waterproof bags or plastic packaging (in the absence of guarantees PFAS-free),
  • renounce cosmetics that include chemical substances in the ingredient list (INCI) whose names contain the words 'fluorine' or 'PTFE',
  • discard the floss coated with PTFE,
  • select only textiles and waterproof clothing with labels'PFAS-free'and'PFC-free'.

The 'NO to PFAS' movement - conceived by Chemsec, an organization funded by the Swedish government - promotes the breakthrough for non-hazardous chemistry and has already garnered the support of numerous brands. (9)

# SDG3, Ensure Health and Well-being. # SDG14, Life below water. # SDG15, Life on land.

Marta Strinati and Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Ian T. Cousins, Jana H. Johansson, Matthew E. Salter, Bo Sha, Martin Scheringer. Outside the Safe Operating Space of a New Planetary Boundary for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). About. Science. Technology. 2022, 56, 16, 11172–11179. August 2, 2022 https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c02765

(2) The PFAS are about 5 thousand. The most studied are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).

(3) Peter Willebrand. Svensk kräftskiva med bitter eftersmak. Test fact, 15.8.22 https://www.testfakta.se/sv/livsmedel/article/svensk-kraftskiva-med-bitter-eftersmak

(4) EFSA. Risk to human health related to the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances in food. EFSA Journal, 17.8.20 https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2020.6223

(5) See https://www.hbm4eu.eu/

(6) ChemTrust - a collaboration between CHEM Trust, a UK registered Charity and CHEM Trust Europe - is accredited as a stakeholder at ECA (European Chemical Agency) And the Chemicals Stakeholder Forum (UK). In addition to participating in the coalitions of EDC Free Europe, European Environment Bureau e International POPS Elimination Network. V. PFAS, the Forever Chemicals. https://chemtrust.org/pfas/

(7) The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international treaty aimed at eliminating or limiting the production and use of toxic chemicals of greatest global interest. The Convention today considers two subgroups of PFAS:

  • PFOS and related substances, since 2009, in view of their global restriction,
  • PFOA and related substances, expected to be phased out from 2019 onwards. V. ChemTrust. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). https://chemtrust.org/pops/

(8) Michael Warhurst. The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability - one year on. ChemTrust. https://chemtrust.org/css-one-year-on/  7.10.21

(9) ChemSec. members. https://chemsec.org/pfas/pfas-movement-members/

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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