I tested my tap water, household products and cat for toxic ‘forever chemicals’ | Michigan

After spending a number of months reporting on the PFAS disaster, I had an alarming realization: taco evening may be poisoning me.

I discovered that the kind of nonstick pans that I used to fry the fish normally comprise the toxic chemical compounds, additionally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Analysis alerted me to their use in some kinds of parchment paper, which I used to roll tortillas, whereas the aluminum foil during which I wrapped leftovers raised a pink flag with its “nonstick” label. For dessert, I bought cookies {that a} native bakery packed in the kind of paper luggage typically treated with PFAS, and the chemical compounds could have been in my tap water and fish.

However PFAS, dubbed “eternally chemical compounds” as a result of they don’t naturally break down, aren’t solely lurking within the kitchen. The artificial compounds are sometimes used to make 1000’s of on a regular basis products water, stain and grease resistant, and they’re fashionable with producers across dozens of industries as a result of they’re so efficient. That’s an issue as a result of the category of about 4,700 compounds is linked to critical well being issues like most cancers, coronary heart illness, delivery defects, liver illness and decreased immunity.

The extent of PFAS contamination is just now coming into focus – studies have discovered ingesting water provides for nicely over 100 million folks throughout demographic strains could also be contaminated by the chemical compounds. It’s estimated that they’re current in 97% of People’ blood, and public well being advocates are simply beginning to understand how widespread their use is in on a regular basis products.

Analysis has discovered that PFAS may also be in my dental floss, waterproof boots, umbrella, mattress pad, bike chain lube, cellphone, clothes, tenting gear and extra. They’re utilized in a range of non-public care products from moisturizer to bar cleaning soap to cosmetics by quite a few manufacturers. In the meantime, my sofa and carpet could have been handled with Scotchgard or different stain guards that use PFAS to make products stain resistant.

The extra I dug into the chemical compounds’ myriad makes use of, the extra I discovered that I’m doubtlessly uncovered to them in practically each aspect of day by day life in my home.

I quickly started to scan my house for products that doubtlessly contained them and anxiously puzzled: “Am I being poisoned by a gradual drip of PFAS?”

Tom Perkins’ cat Ling-Ling, whose blood contained PFAS chemicals.
Tom Perkins’ cat, Ling Ling, whose blood contained PFAS chemical compounds. {Photograph}: Nice Lakes Now

I got down to reply that query by checking dozens of household objects, my tap water and blood samples from my cat, Ling Ling, and me for the chemical compounds. I despatched the outcomes to toxicologists and PFAS researchers who supplied perception on what they imply and helped reply my query. The testing was carried out by two impartial laboratories which can be among the many few nationwide that may conduct such analyses.

Testing confirmed that my and Ling Ling’s blood is contaminated with PFAS. The degrees for a number of compounds are what Graham Peaslee, a College of Notre Dame PFAS researcher, known as “unusually excessive” and at portions at which toxicologists say they begin seeing hyperlinks to well being issues. Some specialists who reviewed the outcomes stated they consider a case that I am being slowly poisoned may very well be made, however additionally they cautioned that PFAS’s presence in my blood doesn’t essentially imply I’ll ever grow to be sick.

And whereas testing indicated the chemical compounds’ use in products all through my house, it’s unclear how they contributed to my blood’s contamination, and the venture usually raised extra questions than it answered.

The outcomes and uncertainty are, in a phrase, distressing.

‘They’re coming from so many locations’

Labs detected or I was capable of affirm the chemical compounds’ presence in 15 frequent products, and there are undoubtedly extra in objects that weren’t checked. State regulators since 2018 have been monitoring ingesting water provides and my tap water take a look at got here again clear, nevertheless it’s doable that it has been contaminated previously.

Blood assessments revealed 4 kinds of PFAS compounds in my and Ling Ling’s blood. They’re among the many most typical utilized by trade, and three exceeded the median US blood ranges for grownup people. That included PFHxS, which was measured in my blood at 2.7 nanograms per liter, and in Ling Ling’s blood at about 13 nanograms per liter. The US median for people is about one nanogram per liter.

Although the quantity of PFAS in our blood is minuscule, the degrees for every compound (besides one) are above US medians, and that might current a well being menace, stated Erika Schreder, a toxicologist with Toxic Free Future. The Seattle-based non-profit research PFAS contamination and pushes trade to seek out alternate options to the chemical compounds.

“Sadly, we do see that typical ranges may be tied to sure well being points, like diminished immunity, so that’s undoubtedly a priority,” Schreder stated after reviewing my outcomes.

Simply because it’s unattainable to know what number of cigarettes trigger most cancers, there’s no clear stage of publicity to PFAS that may cause health problems. Ling Ling and I should be uncovered to the chemical compounds and I fear about what it might imply for us 10 or 20 years down the street. Carla Ng, a College of Pittsburgh researcher who fashions PFAS’s bioaccumulation in organisms, known as the persistent cultural false impression that publicity to chemical compounds isn’t an issue if it doesn’t instantly hurt us “old style”.

“We’re understanding that a number of the long-term continual illness that folks have can hyperlinks again to those cumulative exposures over their lifetime,” Ng added. “It’s not nearly conserving any person from keeling over, it’s about decreasing the general burden of environmentally related illnesses within the US inhabitants, which is fairly massive.”

Whereas the lab outcomes present helpful info, the chemical compounds’ nature, and sheer ubiquity, gaps in testing capabilities and trade information make it practically unattainable to get an correct learn of how a lot PFAS are in our our bodies. It’s additionally tough to attach the dots between the chemical compounds in my blood and house with any precision.

Tom Perkins swabs his shoes so samples can be tested for PFAS.
Perkins swabs his sneakers so samples may be tested for PFAS. {Photograph}: Nice Lakes Now

“It’s the truth that PFAS are so pervasive,” Ng stated. “It’s not simply in electronics, healthcare products or shopper products – it’s in all of these issues, which makes [the project] practically unattainable as a result of they’re coming from so many locations.”

Furthermore, PFAS in my household items right now might present up in my water or dinner lengthy after I discard them. The compounds used during the manufacturing process or when products containing PFAS are put in a landfill can finally migrate to ingesting water provides and the food chain.

That additionally makes it tough to attract a transparent hyperlink between the compounds present in my blood and something at the moment in my house, stated Courtney Carignan, an environmental epidemiologist with Michigan State College. “There’s the issue of an individual’s publicity of their house, and then there’s the issue that [the chemicals were] ever made, and are stepping into the atmosphere … then can get into your fish later,” she stated.

Trade frequently questions whether or not any of that is trigger for concern. The PFAS and Scotchgard producer 3M acknowledges on its web site “doable associations with sure biomarkers or well being outcomes in folks for PFOA and PFOS”, referring to 2 older PFAS. Nonetheless, in an announcement, a spokesperson stated that the “weight of scientific proof from many years of analysis doesn’t present that PFOS or PFOA causes hurt in folks at present or historic ranges”.

Products in my house that comprise PFAS

Testing discovered objects that comprise PFAS from each room in my home, together with my storage and basement.

Most objects have been checked twice – as soon as by Galbraith Laboratory, a Knoxville lab that’s thought-about a frontrunner in toxic chemical testing, and by Notre Dame’s Peaslee, a professor of experimental nuclear physics, chemistry and biochemistry. The assessments confirmed the presence of fluorine, which signifies PFAS, in my bike chain lube, a number of kinds of meals packaging, a small mat handled with Scotchgard, waterproof boots, cookware and Oral B Glide dental floss.

The PFAS in these products can take a number of routes into my physique, and could partly clarify the elevated blood ranges.

PFAS utilized to products like a carpet, sofa or waterproof clothes frequently break off and are breathed in, or connect to mud that will get on our arms and is ingested. The chemical compounds can then accumulate in our organs and might trigger disease.

Toxic Free Future’s Schreder stated she visualizes the protecting stain-resistant layer that PFAS kind as a shag carpet. The items of shag repel water and stains, however, over time, the shag breaks off. “They will go up into the air, so then they’re contaminating your indoor air in your house and you breathe them in,” she stated. “Then you definately convert them in your physique into these extremely persistent compounds.”

Research have found pets like Ling Ling usually have greater ranges of PFAS of their blood than people, partly as a result of they’re smaller, and partly as a result of “for those who’re a toddler or a cat, you then spend much more time sort of interacting with home mud,” Schreder stated. Certainly, Ling Ling had greater ranges of two compounds than I did.

In my home, my waterproof Sorel boots and the small mat in my basement that had been handled with Scotchgard put me at potential threat for the sort of publicity. Researchers advised me furnishings, carpets and sneakers handled with stain protectors like Scotchgard are a prevalent supply of PFOS contamination in my home and People’ blood, and that PFAS compound was present in my blood. Sorel didn’t reply to requests for remark.

By some estimates, as much as 90% of carpets in the marketplace have been handled with PFAS products till the trade shifted away from them final 12 months. That adopted proposals to ban PFAS-treated carpets in several states and choices by retailers like Residence Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling Scotchgard-treated carpets. The PFAS have been changed by stain guards freed from the chemical compounds.

Although Notre Dame’s Peaslee didn’t detect PFAS in my sofa or a carpeted room, the chemical compounds can keep in our our bodies for many years. Publicity to items of furnishings that I owned earlier than my present sofa, which I purchased two years in the past, may very well be behind a number of the PFAS ranges in my and Ling Ling’s blood, Schreder stated.

A number of specialists who reviewed my assessments have been alarmed by the bike lube’s ranges, which have been the best of any product in the home. I get the liquid on my arms throughout my month-to-month chain lubing, and “that’s the sort of product that may result in a number of publicity”, Schreder stated.

Within the kitchen, we confirmed that the parchment paper and nonstick pan used on taco evening contained PFAS. We additionally discovered the chemical compounds in carryout packaging from a number of Detroit eating places.

Food packaging was among the items Tom Perkins had tested for PFAS.
Meals packaging was among the many objects Tom Perkins had tested for PFAS. {Photograph}: Nice Lakes Now

The chemical compounds’ use in meals packaging is widespread. Some eating places in all probability use not less than some packaging that incorporates them, and some restaurateurs in all probability aren’t conscious. Molded fiber products, for instance, categorically contained the chemical compounds till final 12 months. When I spoke with Avalon Worldwide Breads about their cookie luggage, Jackie Victor, a co-owner, stated she was “shocked” to be taught that they contained the chemical compounds, deliberate to instantly pull them, and would discover an alternate that’s PFAS-free. “We’re victims, too,” Victor advised me.

Analysis reveals that PFAS in meals packaging can leach into meals, and that will increase with temperature, period of contact and different elements, stated Laurel Schaider, a PFAS researcher with the Silent Spring Institute. The non-profit research the chemical compounds’ use within the meals trade and in 2017 found PFAS in practically 50% of quick meals wrappers that it tested. The chemical compounds it recognized included PFHxS and PFOA, which have been present in my blood.

Silent Spring later analyzed federal PFAS information and discovered a major correlation between individuals who eat out and greater ranges of the chemical compounds of their blood. “What we ate yesterday can keep in our our bodies for years,” Schaider stated.

PFAS in our blood

Are the PFAS which can be in my house accountable for the PFAS in my blood? Consultants with whom I spoke say nearly actually, however that is the place the image will get particularly fuzzy.

The California-based Vista Analytical Laboratory checked my and Ling Ling’s blood for 24 compounds. In each of us it detected elevated ranges of PFOA. The compound was generally used to provide PTFE that was utilized to a variety of shopper products, together with the pan I used to fry the fish, bike lube, plumber’s tape and dental floss.


Defending ourselves from PFAS


Public well being advocates and researchers say there’s just one actual technique to defend ourselves – a digital ban on PFAS manufacturing.

In any other case, there are only a few significant steps that we are able to take, although a water filtration system is one good possibility. PFAS can slip by means of many filters, however researchers at Duke and North Carolina State universities found reverse osmosis and two-stage filters are the simplest. I purchased a Berkey filtration system, which the corporate claims removes short- and long-chain PFAS.

I additionally removed my nonstick Teflon pots and pans, switched dental floss manufacturers, purchased a unique bike lube (although I’m unsure if it’s PFAS-free) and have stopped shopping for any products that I know comprise PFAS. As a substitute of sweeping with a brush, which kicks up mud and contaminants, I now use a vacuum that has a Hepa filter that traps them.

Carignan stated these are good steps to take, however people who find themselves “attempting to purchase their approach out of an issue” could get a “false sense of safety”. Until I plan to cease consuming out and consuming animal products altogether, for instance, then I’m typically going to be uncovered to PFAS in meals and its packaging.

Firms’ secrecy round PFAS use, deceptive product labeling and the chemical compounds’ ubiquity makes avoiding them practically unattainable.

The regulatory method because it’s at the moment designed is ineffective. Advocates say the one options are to manage PFAS as a category of chemical compounds as a substitute of on a person foundation, and to enact a ban besides for important makes use of, because the European Union is proposing.

There’s solely a lot that a person can do to guard themselves, Schreder stated. “The one approach that we’re going to guard ourselves is to guard everyone else by getting them out of products and cleansing up the areas which can be already contaminated,” she stated.

In Ling Ling and me, the take a look at discovered PFOS and PFHxS, that are constituents of firefighting foam, and the previous was in Scotchgard till 2003. My blood additionally incorporates PFNA, which is used within the manufacturing of nonstick and stain-resistant coatings.

A instrument developed by Carignan and Silent Spring reveals how my and Ling Ling’s ranges evaluate with these of grownup people dwelling within the US.

Whereas a number of the chemical compounds are in all probability current in products in my house, Galbraith’s take a look at tells us how a lot fluorine is within the objects, however doesn’t establish particular person PFAS compounds.

Consultants with whom I spoke stated it was additionally doable that the chemical compounds are in our meals, particularly fish, which Ling Ling and I frequently eat. PFAS are additionally turning up in livestock and crops through pesticides, contaminated sewage sludge used as fertilizer, and contaminated water used on farms.

Within the US, trade is changing the older, longer compounds with a more moderen technology of PFAS that it claims are safer, although that declare is contradicted by a rising physique of research. Testing didn’t discover these chemical compounds in my blood, however that doesn’t imply they aren’t in Ling Ling and me.

Ng stated business labs didn’t have the power or analytical requirements to examine our blood for greater than about 40 PFAS compounds, however 1000’s exist.

This unknown provides further layers of tension and leaves me questioning if I ought to run to my physician for a most cancers screening or liver examine. It’s doable the chemical compounds are behind my high cholesterol, although the cookies and milkshakes which can be a part of my weekly food plan may very well be driving it.

Most corporations that I contacted for remark didn’t reply. Procter and Gamble, which makes use of PTFE in its Oral B Glide dental floss, acknowledged that Oral B tested unfavourable for the presence of PFAS, and claimed PTFE isn’t PFAS. Chemical corporations have just lately begun making that claim, and argue that it’s safer as a result of it doesn’t essentially accumulate within the physique in the identical approach as different such compounds.

However specialists who spoke with me say there isn’t sufficient impartial science to find out whether or not PTFE is protected or not. PTFE has additionally typically been thought-about a PFAS compound, and the EPA classifies it as such. Furthermore, Ng famous that different PFAS compounds are utilized in PTFE manufacturing, which she stated is a priority.

Procter and Gamble additionally stated within the assertion that it tested its floss utilizing a modified model of the EPA 537 method. This take a look at, nonetheless, doesn’t examine for PTFE, or a lot of the 4,700 PFAS compounds. In contrast, our assessments appeared for the overall stage of fluorine, which is the frequent component in all PFAS, and offers labs a clearer thought of how a lot PFAS may be in a product. Our take a look at confirmed that fluorine composes 17% of Oral-B Glide floss.

Involved, Graham Peaslee advised me he has switched to waxed floss.


Making an attempt to establish the chemical compounds’ sources is a bit maddening and nerve-racking. It’s merely not clear how a lot the PFAS in every merchandise is contributing to the degrees in our blood. “You are worried as a result of these are in your blood, and they might have been in your blood for a very long time, so it’s arduous to know if a well being situation that develops is brought on by PFAS publicity, however that can be at the back of your thoughts,” Ng she stated. “It’s basically unfair that we have now to cope with this for the comfort of not having eggs follow the pan.”

This story was produced by Type Investigations in partnership with Great Lakes Now/Detroit Public TV, Client Studies and The Guardian.

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