Toxic compounds from PFAS are contaminating the air inside homes, classrooms and shops at alarming levels, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Rhode Island and the Green Science Policy Institute tested indoor air at 20 sites and detected “eternal chemicals” in 17 locations. Airborne compounds are believed to loosen from PFAS treated products such as carpets and clothing and attach to dust or float freely in the indoor environment.
Experts previously considered food and water to be the two main routes of human exposure to PFAS, but the study authors note that many humans spend around 90% of their time indoors, and results suggest that breathing chemicals probably represents a significant third route of exposure.
“It is an underestimated and potentially significant source of exposure to PFAS,” said Tom Bruton, co-author and senior scientist at Green Science.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances, are a class of approximately 9,000 compounds used to make water, stain or heat resistant products. Because they are so effective, the chemicals are used in dozens of industries and in thousands of everyday consumer products such as stain repellants, rugs, and footwear. Textile manufacturers use them to produce waterproof clothing, and they are used in floor waxes, non-stick cookware, food packaging, cosmetics, fire-fighting foams and more.
PFAS are nicknamed “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down naturally. They accumulate in animals, including humans, and are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormonal disturbances and a series other serious health problems.
A February Guardian analysis of household products found fluoride, an indicator of PFAS, was present in 15 articles. The chemicals are so widely used that it’s difficult to say precisely where all of the airborne PFASs come from, although the new study has also detected their presence in carpets and clothing at some sites.
The study, published Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology, used a new PFAS measurement technique to check the air. He found particularly high standards in several kindergarten classes and also checked the supply room of an outdoor clothing store, offices, several college classrooms, college labs, and an elevator.
A 2017 study found a correlation between high levels of PFAS in air and in human blood serum, and the new study used modeling that found that kindergarten children were likely exposed to more PFAS by breathing them than by ingesting the compounds.
“It reinforces the fact that as long as there is PFAS in the products we have around us in our homes and in our lives, there will be a certain amount that will end up in the air, end up in dust, and we’ll finish breathing it, ”said Bruton.
The types of PFAS detected by the study are also noteworthy. One of the most popular was FTOH 6: 2, a compound used in floor waxes, stain repellants and food packaging. The industry had previously claimed that 6: 2 FTOH was safe, but in May the Guardian revealed that two major producers of PFAS had hidden studies suggesting the compounds were highly toxic at low doses in laboratory animals and remained in the bodies of animals much longer than they were. known before.
Science from industry, federal agencies and independent researchers now links FTOH 6: 2 to kidney disease, cancer, neurological damage, developmental issues, spotted teeth and autoimmune disorders , while the researchers also found higher death rates in young animals and human mothers exposed to the chemicals. .
The new study also found elevated levels of 8: 2 FTOH, a type of compound that major PFAS makers in the United States claimed to have removed from production because of its dangerousness. Its presence suggests that not all companies have phased it out, or that it is in products made in countries where the chemical has not been phased out.
“For me, this is one more reason to turn off the tap on the production and use of PFAS,” said Bruton.