Monday, March 4, 2024

Exposure to toxic ‘PFAS’; a matter of concern now

Must read

PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are forever chemicals that are associated with diseases like cancer, diabetes or infertility. Recently, scientists figured out that we are exposed to this chain of chemicals through the toilet paper along with other sources of contamination.In this week’s health segment, Tanisha Saxena looks at attempts to regulate and restrict the use of PFAS.

Earlier this month an international study initiated by Timothy Townsend of the department of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville, had revealed that toilet paper used in households can contain PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Also, called “forever chemicals”,  that have been linked to cancer and other chronic diseases.

PFAS are ubiquitous manufacturing chemicals. Essentially these forever chemicals are a group of chemicals, used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist oil, heat, stains, grease, and water. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysed that these chemicals are linked to a range of health ills, including, increased risk of certain cancers, hormonal irregularities, hypertension in pregnant women, decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, low birthweight, elevated cholesterol, reduced effectiveness of the immune system — leading to decreased efficacy of vaccines — and more.

PFAS are found in a range of other products, from soaps, shampoos, cleaning products, clothing, food packaging, plastics to firefighting foam, carpeting and even in menstrual products such as tampons, pads, and period underwear.

Dr. Dilip Gude, senior consultant physician, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad shares, “Most individuals don’t consider the possibility that toilet paper could be harmful to their health. We all want the softest, whitest toilet paper we can get. The truth is that this type of paper is the most harmful to your health. Did you realise that commercial paper products include more than 100,000 different chemicals? Chlorine is one of the worst substances ever used. Through our skin, these harmful compounds enter our bodies and enter our bloodstream.

Sadly, most regular toilet paper is made with chlorine bleach, which is the most hazardous of these poisons. Chlorine bleach creates harmful chemicals such as dioxin and furans. Organic fluorine is also a common culprit. These pollutants collect in our bodies, creating a perilous condition for our health.”

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found PFAS in the blood of 97% of people. Another NHANES report suggested blood levels of PFOS and PFOA in people have been reduced since those chemicals were removed from consumer products in the early 2000s. However, new PFAS chemicals have been created, and exposure to them is difficult to assess.

Dr. Aarathy Bellary, senior physician from Amor Hospital, Kukatpally, explained, “This is a matter of serious concern as you can see. These are forever chemicals. They are ubiquitous seeping our water, air, soil. Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women. Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes. Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers. Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response. Even interference with the body’s natural hormones and increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity. It is important to note that recycled toilet paper and its contamination of sewage treatment is what is actually frightening.”
However, notably, India’s low toilet paper consumption gives us relief.

Meanwhile, Dr. Shiva Raju, internal medicine specialist, KIMS hospital points out this very fact stating, “In India we don’t use toilet papers in a good percentage, therefore, we need not to panic about it. Having said that, we do need to consider the amount of forever chemicals we have been exposed to from other sources. It is better to get such chemicals banned and then only we can look for a better substitute.”

If we closely observe PFAS,  then there are two aspects — one is when the manufacturers deliberately add PFAS and the another is when there’s cross-contamination during the manufacturing process which results in this chain of chemicals. We need to monitor and prioritize how to make products chemicals free. We need to find alternatives.

On the other hand, there is GreenScreen, an independent non profit for the assessment of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and thousands of other chemicals of concern. GreenScreen Certified products promote the use of preferred chemistry by using the globally recognised GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals suite of tools.

They work on how to replace or reduce the exposure to such harmful chemicals. We need such an approach which is comprehensive in nature. As we move forward to a more sustainable society we do need solutions or helping hands for the manufacturers that can prevent them using any harmful substitutes. In fact, researchers point to those shorter chain chemicals currently still in use that were considered solid replacements for legacy PFAS as an example of that phenomenon.  

“I have examined that the researchers have concluded that increased exposure to PFAS leads to declining fertility in women. This could partly explain the increasing rates of unexplained infertility in the couples and be an important piece in the puzzle of infertility problem,” tells Dr. Bindu Priya. N, Consultant Urogynecologist / Gynecologist.  

With increasing awareness about the toxic effects of PFAS many western countries have produced a road map as to how to regulate them and restrict their usage. In developing countries like India since the regulation is not very strict there is still indiscriminate usage of these toxic chemicals which can have lasting health hazards on our population.

She continues, “The need of the hour in India would be to bring out more evidence in the form of epidemiological studies on the exact use of these chemicals, find out the levels of current exposure in our population and bring about public awareness on the hazards of these chemicals. The government bodies should strictly enforce the laws in regulating the use of these chemicals. It’s time for us to wake up to this impending doom before it engulfs the humanity.”

Tips to reduce PFAS exposure:

• Product labels that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro.” Are a strict no.
• Avoid packaging for foods that contain grease-repellent coatings Like microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers and boxes.
• Avoid stain-resistance treatments.  
• Choose furniture and carpets that say “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments to these or other items.
•  Avoid clothing, luggage, camping, and sport equipment that were treated for water or stain resistance.
•  Avoid non-stick cookware. Stop using products if non-stick coatings start coming off.

In essence, PFAS are used by the manufacturers to increase the shelf life of a lot of products. We need to examine our exposure to such harmful chemicals and find suitable substitution for them.

- Advertisement -spot_img

More articles

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest article