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PFAS: There Is No Safe Exposure Level

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PFAS might not be as well-known as chemicals like chlorine or fluoride, but this dangerous set of “forever chemicals” is set to become the asbestos of our time. While our understanding of these chemicals is still growing, the information we do have is concerning: they’re everywhere, they don’t break down, and they’re known carcinogens.

While the PFAS discussion has been going on for decades, recent studies and revelations have highlighted some concerning new details. Headlines about class action lawsuits, contamination hotspots, and lagging safety standards come more frequently every year, and the news coming out of Australia… isn’t good.

What is PFAS?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS for short) are man-made chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water. Rather than being a specific chemical like chlorine or fluoride, PFAS is an umbrella term for a growing list of substances.

Other acronyms are used to refer to specific groups within the PFAS class of chemicals:

  • PFOS – Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid
    Found in personal care products like shampoo and cosmetics.
  • PFOA – Perfluorooctanoic acid
    Found in nonstick cookware, firefighting foam, and industrial waste.
  • PFHxS – Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid
    Used as a surfactant in industrial processes. Also found in stain-resistant fabrics and firefighting foam.
  • PFNA – Perfluorononanoic acid
    Found in stain-resistant and grease-resistant coatings on furniture, carpets, and food packaging.

These compounds have been given the nickname “forever chemicals” because of how long they take to break down in the environment – and in our bodies. Rather than being expelled through sweat and waste like other toxins, forever chemicals bio-accumulate (build up over time) in both animals and humans.

Where does it come from?

In Australia, a lot of the PFAS contamination we know about can be traced back to firefighting foams used from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. Contamination sites have often been close to military training facilities where these foams were used for training drills, gradually seeping into groundwater stores over time.

PFAS contamination can also come from heat and stain-resistant products like Teflon and Scotch Guard from manufacturers like 3M, used internationally since the 1940s. These products eventually make their way to landfill sites, where PFAS can be released into the environment through rainfall and sewage discharges.

PFAS that make their way into the environment do not go away, but they do move. You don’t need to live beside a PFAS-producing factory to be exposed to their effects; when we release PFAS into our water, it flows out from stream to river, then out to sea, circulating in ocean currents.

Once it gets into the tiniest of organisms, its position in the food chain grows. From plankton to small fish, to big fish, to sea birds (unless, of course, we catch the big fish and take it straight to our plates). They are in the air we breathe, the soil our food is grown in, and the water we drink. Through these environmental channels, PFAS can reach people and wildlife worldwide.

What does PFAS do to people?

Studies have linked PFAS contamination to a number of serious health concerns, from hormone and thyroid disruption to fertility complications and cancer. PFOA specifically has been classified by the World Health Organisation as carcinogenic to humans, with any level of exposure being potentially harmful.

Citing several peer-reviewed scientific studies, the US Environmental Protection Agency says PFAS exposure can lead to:

  • Decreased fertility, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and other reproductive effects.
  • Developmental delays in children (e.g. low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, behavioural changes).
  • Increased risk of multiple cancers including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity
  • Endocrine disruption, interfering with the body’s natural hormones.

What can I do about PFAS?

The main challenge with understanding PFAS is that there are thousands of different compounds classified under the same umbrella term, with more being added to the list all the time. These chemicals are incredibly resilient, travel vast distances, and leave no detectable taste or smell in our water. However, scientific knowledge regarding PFAS’ environmental occurrence, the effects of exposure, test methods and remediation technologies are rapidly evolving worldwide.

One of the most reliable tools currently on the market for removing PFAS from your drinking water is our reverse osmosis purifier, stripping out particles as small as 0.0005 microns and giving you the purest drinking water possible short of distillation. Reverse osmosis forces water through a semi-permeable membrane, blocking 99.95% of chemicals and contaminants that might be present in your water – including PFAS. These under-sink systems are the perfect complement for a whole-home system that takes sediments, pesticides, heavy metals, and chlorine out of your water.

Complete Home Filtration is also close to launching a proprietary whole-home filtration system that removes PFAS from every tap and outlet in your home. We’ve been developing this system for years, making sure it can keep up with the science and address the needs of Australians across the country. Watch this space for updates!

Call us on 1300 693 458 or fill out our contact form to organise a quote for your own reverse osmosis system and be one of the first to know when our whole-home PFAS solution hits the market.