Consumers can feel a little better about supporting some of their favorite companies, thanks to retailers and restaurants uniting to rid their inventory of dangerous “forever chemicals.”
Twenty-three unique retail chains with almost 84,000 physical stores have committed to eliminate or reduce toxic PFAS chemicals in food packaging, textiles, and other products. These include McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, 711, Target, T.J. Maxx, Lowes, Home Depot, IKEA, Amazon, and the list goes on.
The diversity of the retailers reflects the true nature of the threat. PFAS come from various products but don’t break down in the environment, giving them the nickname “forever chemicals.”
PFAS, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, includes PFOS, PFOA, and many other chemicals. PFAS are synthetic chemicals manufactured by chemical companies for their water-repellent, stain-resistant, and grease-proof properties. They are used in non-stick Teflon pans, popcorn bags, cell phones, water-proof raincoats, ski wax, and commercial aircraft. PFAS is also frequently used to increase the durability and consistency of cosmetics products like nail polish, lipsticks, mascara, eye shadow, foundation, and lotion.
That’s not all! The persistent chemical is also found in stain protectors for furniture and outdoor equipment, baked into industrial carpet fibers, and injected via spray as industrial fire-fighting foam.
According to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Alexis Parcells, owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery, PFAS accumulates in humans too! For example, many cosmetics and personal care products are often applied to the lips and eyes — near the mucous membranes and tear ducts — where they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Now, the toxic chemical is even found in the water supply of 16.5 million Americans!
Thankfully, recent legislative and corporate governance strategies have seen a significant drop in the use of PFAS in some states. For example, on July 15th, Maine became the first U.S. state to ban toxic PFAS chemicals entirely, excluding where it’s “currently unavoidable,” like in critical hospitals and medical supplies.
Patrick MacRoy, deputy director at Defend Our Health, said:
I am proud to see Maine taking action that will change the conversation on how PFAS are regulated, not only addressing the entire class but creating the requirement to avoid these persistent and toxic chemicals wherever possible.
Also, in July, Maine became the first U.S. state to hold big corporations and brands responsible for the plastic waste and packaging they create by shifting the recycling costs on the producer rather than the consumer. The new law will reduce packaging pollution, increase recycling rates, and save taxpayers money.
The benefit gained from a famous company like McDonald’s removing PFAS in their packaging is that their products end up all over the country and the world. Therefore, they can protect people from harmful effects without depending on a local government agency’s support. The same goes for the other successful fast-food and fast-casual chains.
How To Know What You Are Consuming
- The state of contaminants and harmful chemicals
- The products that usually contain them
- The scientific work that identified them
- Government ordinances banning them
The organization highlights that even though it’s likely every human residing in the U.S. already has PFAS in their body, there are some steps people can take to minimize their risk. For example, SCHF recommends staying away from packaged food, popcorn bags, and takeout food containers. However, they also provide a detailed list of name-brand packaging that’s certified as ‘PFAS-free.’
Dr. Parcells suggests checking the labels on the skincare, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products that you use daily. “Toss out any that contain the words ‘PTFE’ or ‘perfluoro’ in the list of ingredients,” Dr. Parcells said.
Since many products don’t reveal all of the ingredients included, Dr. Parcells recommends checking the Environmental Working Group‘s list of confirmed PFAS-free products. “They have reviewed over 74,000 products and identified over 18,000 of them as free of chemicals of concern, or ‘EWG verified,'” explained Luz Claudio, Ph.D., a professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.
Another excellent source for identifying common toxic chemicals in everyday cosmetics, household cleaning, and hygiene products is MadeSafe. The non-profit thoroughly explains which products contain PFAS on their website.
In addition, try to avoid Teflon or other non-stick coatings on pans. If you do use a Teflon pan, don’t use it if you’ve left it on too high a heat for too long. Once the non-stick coating isn’t so non-stick anymore, get rid of the pan.
While researchers are still learning about the health effects, a growing body of evidence suggests that PFAS may lead to serious health problems, including a weaker immune system, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, and reduced fertility. In addition, “PFAS have been linked to birth defects, liver and thyroid disease, hormone disruption, and a range of other serious health problems — including cancer,” noted Parcells.
PFAS “Action Act”
On July 21st, the United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, H.R. 2467, to address the country’s PFAS crisis by preventing chemicals in packing products and drinking water. The PFAS “Action Act” will restrict PFAS air and water pollution and help jumpstart cleanup at polluted sites across the nation.
H.R. 2467, if passed, would give the EPA twelve months to label PFOS and PFOA as harmful chemicals and five years to determine whether to label PFAS as a dangerous substance and air pollutant. Also, a national drinking water standard for these chemicals (meaning how much contamination is legally permitted) is to be established over two years. Finally, the bill suggests products should have a ‘PFAS-free’ or ‘containing PFAS’ label, but it should be voluntary.
While it’s a slow-moving governmental action, for now, we can be proud of Maine and the 23 big brands for not waiting around to get rid of a ‘forever’ toxic chemical. This gives hope for a cleaner future.