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How bad are PFOS? Understanding your exposure for a healthier you

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) lurk in our environment, potentially impacting our health. Nicknamed “forever chemicals” due to their resistance to breakdown, PFOS raise concerns. While research is ongoing, studies suggest links between PFOA and PFOS exposure and various health problems.

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But how can you know if you’ve been exposed? This article explores the potential dangers of PFOS and why getting tested can be a crucial step in safeguarding your health. By understanding your exposure levels, you can take proactive steps to minimise risks and promote overall well-being.

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What exactly are PFOS

PFOS or “forever chemicals” have a remarkable resistance to breakdown in the environment. This characteristic stems from their unique molecular structure:

Strong carbon-fluorine bonds

PFOS contain carbon-fluorine bonds, some of the strongest single bonds found in nature. This exceptional strength makes them highly stable and difficult for natural processes to break them apart.

Rejection by water and soil microbes

The fluorine atoms in PFOS also create a strong repulsion to water and make them resistant to degradation by microorganisms that typically break down organic materials in soil and water.

These combined factors lead to PFOS persisting in the environment for a very long time, potentially thousands of years. Here’s a breakdown of the consequences of this persistence:

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Long-term contamination

Once released into the environment, PFOS can travel long distances through air and water and accumulate in soil, water, and even the living tissues of plants and animals. This creates long-term contamination that can impact ecosystems and human health.

Bioaccumulation up the food chain

Since PFOS are not readily broken down, they can bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain. This means organisms higher in the food chain, like humans, can end up with higher concentrations of PFOS in their bodies.

Potential health risks

The long-term presence of PFOS in the environment raises concerns about their potential health effects on humans. Studies suggest links between PFOA and PFOS exposure (the most studied PFO types) and various health problems, though research is ongoing.

Therefore, the nickname “forever chemicals” accurately reflects the persistent nature of PFOS and the challenges they pose for environmental and human health.

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The “safe” level of PFOA and PFOS exposure currently

Here’s a breakdown of the situation:

US EPA health advisories

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets non-enforceable health advisories for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. These are updated periodically based on new science. As of 2022, the interim health advisory levels are:

  • PFOA: 0.004 ppt (parts per trillion)
  • PFOS: 0.02 ppt (parts per trillion)

Lower levels may pose risks

These health advisories are much lower than previously established levels due to studies suggesting negative health effects at lower exposures than previously understood

Zero as the goal?

The EPA’s proposed national drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS (as of March 2023) has proposed maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) of zero for both chemicals, reflecting a goal of no detectable level in drinking water

Uncertainty and ongoing research

Scientific understanding of the health effects of PFOA and PFOS is still evolving. The current health advisories and proposed regulations are considered the best available science but may change as research progresses

In summary, there’s no known perfectly safe level of PFOA and PFOS exposure. The EPA advisories and ongoing research efforts aim to minimise potential health risks. If you’re concerned about your exposure, consider getting tested and reducing potential sources like contaminated drinking water or certain consumer products.

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How bad are PFOS?

PFOA and PFOS are short for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate, respectively. They are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products for decades. These chemicals are very persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the human body over time.

There is growing concern about the potential health effects of PFOA and PFOS. Studies have shown that these chemicals can be linked to several health problems, including:

  • Reduced fertility and problems during pregnancy
  • Developmental problems in children
  • Increased risk of some cancers, such as prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer
  • Changes in the immune system
  • Interference with the body’s hormones
  • Increased cholesterol levels and obesity

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, but these are not enforceable regulations. Some states have taken steps to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.

If you are concerned about your exposure to PFOA and PFOS, there are a few things you can do:

  • Get your blood tested. A blood test can measure the levels of PFOA and PFOS in your body.
  • Avoid products that contain PFOA and PFOS. These chemicals can be found in a variety of products, including cookware, carpets, and stain repellents.
  • Drink filtered water. PFOA and PFOS can contaminate drinking water supplies. A water filter can help to remove these chemicals from your drinking water.

It is important to note that the research on the health effects of PFOA and PFOS is ongoing. More research is needed to determine the full extent of the risks associated with exposure to these chemicals.


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