ECOWATCH – “Nonstick,” “waterproof” and “stain-resistant” are all commonplace terms that are self-explanatory.
But the “forever chemicals” behind the coatings that give products the ability to resist grease, water and oil are not so well-known, it turns out.
A new study conducted by AgriLife scientists at Texas A&M University is the first generalized survey in the United States to test public awareness and knowledge of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) forever chemicals.
The researchers found that most Americans have no knowledge of the substances and are not aware of their potential associated risks, a press release from the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) said.
“This is the first survey of its kind, and what we found is that the vast majority of people do not have a clear understanding of PFAS,” said Allen Berthold, interim director of TWRI and the study’s lead author, in the press release.
“Research has come out in the last year showing that many Americans are exposed to PFAS, including through drinking water supplies, whether they know it or not.”
There are thousands of manufactured chemicals that fall under the category of PFAS.
They are an ever-growing threat to the environment and human health, as they are not easily broken down or gotten rid of.
This is because they have one of the strongest possible chemical bonds, that of the molecules carbon and fluorine.
The study, “Let’s talk about PFAS: Inconsistent public awareness about PFAS and its sources in the United States,” was published in the journal PLOS One.
Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been used in products from nonstick cookware to food wrappers and many other consumer products, as well as in firefighting foam, according to the press release. PFAS levels have been found in food, soil and air, and toxic amounts have been detected in U.S. drinking water … READ MORE.
“The most consistently observed and strongest evidence for harmful impacts on human health is for immune suppression (such as decreased vaccination response), changes in liver function (such as higher cholesterol, elevated liver enzymes), and lower birth weight. In addition, PFOA has also been associated with kidney cancer.” – Minnesota Department of Health
Most Americans are oblivious to ‘forever chemicals’ and risks
November 16, 2023 By Leslie Lee
Texas A&M – Texas A&M AgriLife scientists conducting the first generalized U.S. study on public awareness of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found most Americans do not know what the substances are or have knowledge of any potential associated risks.
PFAS are a category of thousands of manufactured chemicals and an emerging concern to environmental and human health. PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because their bonds between carbon and fluorine molecules, one of the strongest chemical bonds possible, make PFAS removal and breakdown very difficult.
“This is the first survey of its kind, and what we found is that the vast majority of people do not have a clear understanding of PFAS,” said Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI, Interim Director Allen Berthold, Ph.D., lead author of the study published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
PFAS compounds have been used in industry and products since the 1940s, including fire extinguishing foam, nonstick cookware, food wrappers and many other consumer goods. Levels of PFAS compounds have also been detected in food and water supplies.
Americans mostly unaware of PFAS
In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, proposed a national standard for PFAS in drinking water. But, as communities grapple with how to ensure their water supplies do not contain unsafe levels of PFAS, most consumers are completely unaware there is an issue.
“When I ask an audience at a public presentation if they’ve ever heard of PFAS, usually only a few people from a room of 100 will say yes, and that’s fairly consistent with these survey results,” Berthold said. “PFAS in drinking water has received media and regulatory attention this year, but the general public’s awareness of the contaminant had not been measured until this research.”
TWRI’s Stephanie deVilleneuve, corresponding author and research specialist; Audrey McCrary, program specialist; and Michael Schramm, research specialist, also co-authored the research. Together they measured and analyzed U.S. residents’ knowledge of PFAS, experience with PFAS, and perceptions of potential environmental and health risks related to PFAS.
Some notable findings were:
- 45.1% of respondents had never heard of PFAS and did not know what they are, and
- 31.6% had heard of PFAS but did not know what they are.
- 11.5% knew their community had been exposed to PFAS.
- 97.4% did not believe their drinking water had been impacted by PFAS.
PFAS in tap water
In July, the U.S. Geological Survey published research showing that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water was estimated to contain one or more types of PFAS chemicals.
“Research has come out in the last year showing that many Americans are exposed to PFAS, including through drinking water supplies, whether they know it or not,” McCrary said. “So, a significant knowledge gap here needs to be addressed.”
Schramm said in the study the strongest predictor of PFAS awareness was community exposure.
“However, of the people aware they were exposed to PFAS, approximately half stated they did not know what PFAS were,” Schramm said. “This indicates a large gap in the information being provided to the public.”
The respondents aware of community exposure were more likely to know PFAS sources, change their use of items with potential PFAS contamination, and answer that their drinking water sources were also contaminated with PFAS.
About the survey
The survey was conducted online, and 1,100 respondents from across the U.S. and all 50 states participated. Schramm led the formal data analysis of the responses, and Berthold, McCrary and deVilleneuve developed the survey methodology and administration.
The study found no major differences when comparing PFAS knowledge, experience and risk perceptions across various demographics.
“It was very notable that there was no statistical difference depending on race, gender or age — perception was largely the same across the board,” deVilleneuve said. “This research was a fact-finding effort and gives us baseline data moving forward as interest in PFAS remediation continues to grow.”
To learn more:
Read an introduction to PFAS basics: tx.ag/PFAS101.
Learn about PFAS remediation research at Texas A&M: tx.ag/PFASremediation.
Read the full journal article: tx.ag/PFASawareness.