The PFAS Monster in Everyone’s Closet

PFAS is a group of chemicals known scientifically as perfluoroalkyl substances. Which doesn’t roll off the tip of the tongue. Even more concerning, according to the CDC, is there are more than 9,000 different types.

Where The F$%k Did PFAS Come From?

In the 1940s, scientists working on the Manhattan Project attempting to separate uranium accidentally created carbine-fluorene bonds that could not be broken. This ultimately ended up creating the monster and everyone’s closet PFAS. Chemical engineers working on the project found the PFAS compounds could repel water, grease, and stains. Seems pretty awesome right? No, they created a monster. These compounds were also used in-tank fuel lines to protect the rubber from degrading.

These PFAS chemicals are extremely stable both chemically and thermally. These are forever chemicals, meaning they bio-accumulate, bio-magnify, and will not degrade. These substances have been used in everything from carpet, furniture, non-stick cookware, camping gear, Gore-Tex, Scotch Guard, makeup products, lotion, firefighting foams, Nomex fabric, and firefighting gear. In the PPE industry, Nomex fabric and firefighting gear is treated with PFAS to repel stains, to waterproof gear so it doesn’t become heavier, repel oil, repel biological substances, and used in our PPE moisture barrier. The moisture barrier is made of Teflon a known PFAS product. These chemicals have been linked to four of the top eight cancers which are commonly found in firefighters. These include testicular, kidney, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and prostate cancer. Additionally, liver damage, decreased fertility, asthma, and endocrine disorders.

They Knew

Dupont had known for years the toxicity of Teflon and even acknowledged that fumes from overheated Teflon pans can kill birds. Seems safe though for human cookware right? No, remember they created a monster. They have known for so long that they have resorted to the same 1950’s big tobacco propaganda tactics. These tactics of course include the all too familiar denial of actual science. As well as its propaganda dinner date the releasing contradictory studies. Curiously, the same firm that represented big tobacco has also found its way into the chemical industry. In addition, I won’t mention any names (Dupont) was actively bio-monitoring their workers in the 1980s. However, maintained their “technologies” were safe. Who knows why you would monitor something that has been deemed safe, but I’ll play. Turns out Dupont was full of shit. They were pulling employees from the workplace when their blood levels hit 400 ppb. Remember that gem of a number. In fact, in 1992, scientists began to publish papers addressing how PFOA causes testicular tumors and other harmful effects on the male reproductive tracts. First, they found that PFOA increases blood levels of estradiol in male rats” (P. 29). Scientists also found males who have been exposed to PFOA and PFAS having difficulty regulating testosterone. Female workers were having children with an array of birth defects. Meaning PFOA was crossing the placenta and entering the cord blood. Females also had an increase in endocrine systems, early menopause, decrease the production of estradiol and progesterone, uterine/ cervical cancer, breast cancer, and difficulties during pregnancy.

Why You Should Care

This affects all of us. PFAS exists right now in all of our blood. The US population average is 2 parts per billion. Visually this is 2 drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Remember, Dupont was pulling workers when their blood levels hit 400 parts per billion. Fun Fact, the EPA says PFOA/PFAS is safe at 70 parts per trillion. Visually one part per trillion is one drop of water in 20 Olympic size swimming pools. So, the entire U.S population already has unsafe levels of PFAS in their blood. We also know, numerically, Dupont didn’t care about their worker’s toxic exposure levels to PFAS. One last thing, recently scientists confirmed that newborn babies tested positive for having detectable levels of PFAS in their urine less than a day old. In fact, to find human blood that is completely free of PFAS you have to go back to the Korean War in the 1950s.

Husband, Author, Firefighter, Advocate Against PFAS