Through a campaign to push for a widespread European Union ban, top Brussels politicians have discovered that toxic chemicals are in their systems.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ChemSec, a nonprofit organization that advocates for substituting toxic chemicals, looked at 16 political leaders and published their results, illustrating the crisis of toxic chemicals in our bloodstream.
In all tested individuals, up to seven per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) were found and five of the politicians exceeded levels of safety.
The tests show that even politicians are not immune to high levels of toxic substances and that Europe must urgently regulate these substances.
Tatiana Santos, the head of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau, tells Healthnews that "The increase in toxic chemicals is mainly due to the lack of responsibility and accountability of EU industry and a lack of effective regulations."
PFAS have been linked to several issues, including cancer, infertility, birth defects, and immune system disruptions.
This test comes at a time when the European Commission has paused reform of the EU chemicals control law called REACH (Regulation for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals). This is due to differing political and industry leaders' views on the PFAS ban.
The EEB and ChemSec used this test to garner attention and raise awareness around the very present threat to public health.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Competition said in a statement, “I took this test because I wanted to help raise awareness of this simple fact: it may still take some time before PFAS are fully replaced, but it’s the right way to go."
Vestager found that she had seven of the 13 PFAS analyzed in the blood test.
What products may contain PFAS?
"There are many products containing PFAS, from nonstick pans to cosmetics or food contact materials or clothes," says Santos. "For some, safer choices can be made more easily, for example, avoiding Teflon frying pans and switching to iron or ceramic alternatives. Other options include avoiding oven paper and replacing the non-stick function by using oil or butter. Other product categories are not so straightforward, unfortunately."
According to the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the following products may contain PFAS:
- Drinking water from a municipal source or private well.
- Eating fish caught in water contaminated by PFAS.
- Breathing in contaminated soil or dust.
- Eating meat, dairy, and vegetables that may be contaminated with PFAS.
- Eating food that is packaged in materials that contain PFAS.
- Stain-resistant carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics.
- Water-resistant clothing or bedding.
- Cleaning products.
- Personal care products and cosmetics like shampoo, dental floss, and nail polish.
- Paints, varnishes, sealants.
Essentially, everyday products may contain PFAS and can be found in rainwater, soil, and even breast milk.
This list may look scary, but the best way to avoid PFAS is to avoid using non-stick cookware, opt for home-cooked meals rather than fast food, and check for PFAS- or PFC-free labels. As for cosmetics, check the ingredient list and avoid the product "fluoro" or PTFE in the name. Stay away from dental floss that has PTFE coatings, and always read the labels of almost everything you buy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 74% of their samples of clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and tuna had PFAS in a 2022 survey.
Does this mean people should avoid seafood? Not exactly. The FDA says that seafood provides nutrients that are necessary for brain, heart, and immune system development. The agency suggests that consumers check their state fish and shellfish consumption advisories, which are available on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website. Overall, it's best to eat it in moderation.
How to remove PFAS from your drinking water
In the United States, 45 percent of the water has a form of PFAS. In the EU, 17,000 sites were found to be polluted by PFAS, some containing levels incredibly high and dangerous for human health.
There are several ways to reduce PFAS or totally eliminate them from your water supply, however. Granular activated carbon and reverse osmosis are the best filter systems for PFAS. Water softeners or iron filtration systems are not suitable for removing PFAS, however. This also goes for boiling water, too.
In the U.S., water utilities are required to test water for contaminants; however, many don't test for PFAS. Certain states do have regulations that require monitoring of public water systems. States that do not have any regulations include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
If you rent your home, you can ask your landlord or building manager to show you the water quality report.
If your water comes from a well, or you are unable to test for PFAS, you can have your water completely tested at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lab. SimpleLab, Cyclopure, and WaterCheck are three different types of mail-in kits that, while accessible, are not exactly cost-efficient. SimpleLab, for example, charges $299 to get your water quality tested. A more affordable option would be Cyclopure, which only tests for PFAS and is $79.
In 2023, the Environmental Working Group tested water filters and pitchers that reduced PFAS. Their results found that Clearly Filtered and Zero Water blocked PFAS by 100%. The Epic Pure Pitcher blocked 98% of PFAS. The popular Brita water filter only removed 66% of PFAS.
For more permanent under-the-sink models, the Brondell Coral UC300 Three Stage and the Aquasana AQ-5200 were the best at removing PFAS.
How do I test for PFAS in my body?
In order to test for PFAS in your body, you must reach out to your health provider for a blood test. The test shows how many chemicals have entered the body over time.
A blood test to measure PFAS will show your baseline so you can monitor any changes if they increase over time. It can also be used for future doctor appointments when considering your risk factors.
The blood test will not, however, tell you where the PFAS came from or how long you've been exposed to the chemicals.
If your doctor cannot order a PFAS test in the U.S., AXYS Analytical, EmpowerDX, and Eurofins are labs that can do them as well. AXYS and Eurofind measure by blood serum, whereas EmpowerDX uses an at-home finger-prick test. Santos says that test kits and analysis in the EU laboratory cost €225.
Peter Pierrou, the director of communications at ChemSec, tells Healthnews that getting a lab test for PFAS in the EU is difficult and expensive.
"Another problem with PFAS is that it's a group of about 10000 chemicals with the same problematic properties. A test can only capture a few of these. In our testing, we looked for 16 different PFAS, meaning the contamination could actually be worse," he says.
Let's say you have your results, and the test found PFAS in your system. Now what?
In 2022, Northwestern University scientists found a new way to destroy PFAS by injecting two other totally harmless chemicals into the equation. Using sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, and dimethyl sulfoxide, a chemical that's used in medication for bladder pain syndrome, together and at a certain temperature can degrade PFAS.
Of course, this measure does not eliminate the chemicals in the body. At least not yet. Scientists are actively trying to find a way to get rid of PFAS.
Pierrou says, "There are studies out there that show that every single person on the planet has measurable levels of PFAS in their blood. That's what we wanted to show with our blood tests of the EU politicians. Before we even tested them, we knew they would have PFAS in their blood; everyone does. The solution to this problem is banning PFAS (the whole group) from use."
As of right now, there is no remedy to totally remove PFAS from the body, but the best option is to begin by removing the possible source from your environment and home. Going plastic-free, checking clothing labels, and buying sustainably are all ways in which you can ensure your home is PFAS-free.
Santos says, "To stay safe, people should advocate for better regulations that oblige companies to prove chemicals are safe before they can enter the market and allow harmful chemicals to be effectively phased out more quickly."
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Agency. How can I be exposed?
- ChemSec. Blood tests show high-level EU politicians are polluted by PFAS.
- Environment International. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the United States tapwater: Comparison of the underserved private-well and public-supply exposures and associated health implications.
- Science. Low-temperature mineralization of perfluorocarboxylic acids.