The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s main responsibility is ensuring that the food, drugs, cosmetics and other products sold in the country are safe for human health. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways they’re failing the public, especially when it comes to a group of chemicals known as PFAS.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were found in a recent FDA analysis in multiple levels of the American food supply chain. The group is made up of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals that have been used since the 1940s.
Valued for their ability to resist heat, oil and water, they’re used across a broad range of products. For example, they can be found in nonstick cookware, dental floss, firefighting foam, fast food packaging and stain-resistant fabrics and carpets.
These chemicals were recently found in food sources throughout the nation, including in those areas that are known to be contaminated with PFAS. They were found in milk at a New Mexico dairy farm where PFAS made their way into groundwater and leafy greens like kale, cabbage and lettuce grown at a farm downstream from a North Carolina PFAS production plant and sold at a farmer’s market. They also turned up in 14 out of 91 samples tested of dairy, grains and meat.
Cumulative lifetime exposure cause for concern
While the FDA said the presence of these chemicals in our food supply chain are not likely to be a health concern for the public at the levels detected, many experts beg to differ. One big problem is the fact that PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they build up in your body over time. The FDA’s limits fail to take into account the cumulative lifetime exposure people are subjected to when even things like ready-made chocolate cake are contaminated with these chemicals.
Northwell Health Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Dr. Ken Spaeth said that while we’ve long known that pretty much every American has these chemicals inside their bodies, he takes issue with the FDA’s conclusion that there are no hazards at these levels.
Just what is at stake here in terms of your health? So far, PFAS have been linked to everything from thyroid issues and high blood pressure to reproductive harm, kidney and liver problems, and several types of cancer.
While the EPA set a health advisory for certain PFAS in the form of a lifetime exposure limit of 70 parts per trillion when it comes to drinking water, these non-enforceable limits fail to consider the fact that people are exposed to it through other products as well, such as dairy, meat and fish.
Moreover, independent scientists and other regulators have recommended safe levels be set at more than 200 times below the EPA guideline. One study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Copenhagen suggested the limit be set at just 0.3 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
Molecular Toxicologist Dr. Wendy Heiger-Bernays told Healthline that the FDA’s findings illustrate how federal regulations should be set across several agencies. She said there is sufficient evidence to set limits and believes they need to be instituted quickly because the molecules in these “forever chemicals” cannot be broken down by the body’s enzymes, microorganisms, sunlight, or anything else due to the extremely strong bond between fluorine and carbon.
If so many experts are calling for strict limits to be set, why is the FDA dragging their feet on this? We’re talking about chemicals that make their way easily into water, soil, food, dust and air and are putting people’s health at serious risk. When will something be done to protect the public from these dangerous toxins?
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