Oct. 19, 2021 -- The federal government is stepping up actions to protect Americans from so-called “Forever chemicals” that threaten health through pollution in the air, water, and foods.

The White House on Monday announced a plant to prevent per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from being released into the air, drinking and ground water, and the food supply chain. Other efforts will expand cleanup of the impact of PFAS already present in the environment.

PFAS are a category of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been used for decades in a range of consumer products including cookware, stain-resistant clothes, fast food wrappers, treatments for carpets and furniture, and firefighting foams. Research has shown that many of these chemicals appear to disrupt hormones and interfere with the immune system. They persist in nature and in our bodies for months to years, depending on their structures. For that reason, they can build up over time.

The FDA in 2019 tested a variety of food products for these chemicals, and reported finding them in sweet potatoes, pineapples, baked goods, and meats.

The FDA ordered testing of 91 samples of fruits, vegetables, meats, milk, and baked goods purchased at grocery stores in three cities in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The agency tested mixed samples of pineapple, sweet potato, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, chocolate milk, and 10 different kinds of meat and fish. The samples were tested for 16 different kinds of PFAS chemicals. Out of the 91 samples tested, 14 tested positive for at least one kind of PFAS.

PFAS can be released into the air, and also into surface water, drinking water, and ground water, because of how they are disposed, according to a 2020 report from the Endocrine Society and the International Pollutants Elimination Network. The report suggested that creation of more plastic products will likely increase exposure to PFAS and other EDCs.

Endocrine-disrupting plastics pose growing health threat

The Environmental Protection Agency will take the lead on the Biden administration’s PFAS reduction efforts. The agency announced a PFAS Roadmap, which outlines actions to control PFAS over the next 3 years. The Roadmap’s goals include keeping PFAS out of the environment, holding polluters accountable for their actions, investing in scientific research to learn more about the impact of PFAS on human health, and prioritizing protection for disadvantaged communities.

The White House said other agencies involved in the efforts include the Department of Defense, which will cleanup and assess PFAS at Defense and National Guard locations; the FDA, which will to expand its food supply testing to estimate exposure to PFAS; and the Department of Agriculture, which is investigating causes and impacts of PFAS in the food system, and supporting research on environmental contaminants.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade association for American chemistry companies, said it supports value of science-based regulation, but said not all PFAS are the same and shouldn’t be judged together.

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