By: Rochelle Durand
Summary. A recent study in Seattle, Washington found alarming levels of toxic chemicals called PFAS in samples of mothers’ breast milk. Researchers from Indiana University, University of Washington Children's Research Institute, and the organization ‘Toxic-Free Future’ followed 50 women in the Seattle area and measured the parts per trillion of nine different PFAS in their breast milk. They found PFA levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion, up to 500 parts per trillion. The median contamination levels among the 50 participants were 152 parts per trillion. For reference, in 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency set the PFA level for drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that can not break down on their own and can accumulate in the human body with negative health effects. These substances gained the nickname “forever chemical” due to their persistence in the environment and the human body. PFAS were invented in the 1940s and are best known for their water, fire, oil, and temperature resistance. They can be found everywhere, from non-stick appliances, rain jackets, food wrappers, and fire-fighting foams. PFAS can make its way into the human body through multiple pathways. This includes the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, and household furnishings such as couches and carpets. It is now believed that over 98% of Americans have some level of PFAS in their blood. Once in the bloodstream, PFAS can travel to tissues and can make its way into the placenta and breastmilk of expecting mothers. From there, PFAS are passed down from the mother to the child. As more women are exposed to PFAS, more toxins are passed down to their children. Exposure to these toxic chemicals can cause adverse health effects for humans and animals, including decreased immune response, thyroid effects, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and increased cholesterol levels. Members from Toxic-Free Future and researchers from the study are now raising concern over the rising levels of toxins in breast milk, advocating for a state-wide ban or regulation on PFAS. Newer PFAs are being found in higher concentrations, showing that changing the type PFAS did not solve the problem. Even older PFA chemicals that are no longer being produced are still being found in breast milk samples in high amounts, proving that the whole class of PFAS needs to be addressed, not only certain kinds.
Why we should care? PFAS are found around us in everyday products. They can be passed down to our children since they cannot be naturally broken down, causing health effects that can last for generations.
I found this article interesting because not only did it include in-depth information on PFAS, but it also included an interview with one of the mothers who took part in the study, Vera Harrington. Harrington discusses her anxieties surrounding PFAS, and how avoiding them seems “out of her control”. She explains what products she will no longer be used in preparation for the arrival of her second child; including carpet cleaning treatments and a stain-resistant rocker that she bought for her first child. In addition to the interview with Harrington, the article provides useful infographics displaying the findings from the Seattle-based study, showing the different types of PFAS that were observed and the ppt (parts per trillion) recorded. The article also discusses the ways big corporations such as McDonald’s are taking action to remove PFAS from their products and other ways that organizations such as Toxic-Free Future are advocating for new legislation.
Science in Action.
Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.
Dr. Sathyanarayana’s research focuses on PVC and BPA chemical exposures and their effects on the endocrine system as well as reproductive development. A majority of her research examines the relationship between toxic chemicals found in our environment and their effect on pregnancy outcomes and early childhood development. Recently, Sathyanarayana’s research has expanded to PFAS and their effects on the human body and the reproductive system. Her goals are to use science to influence policymaking and to protect children’s health. In the past, she has served as the chair of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee. She currently is a medical director at the University of Washington who provides health consultations through the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit to help parents better understand the dangers of toxic chemicals in their home environments. Her work is relevant to PFAS because just like other man-made chemicals such as PVC and BPA, they can have detrimental effects on the endocrine system in both babies and adults, and can accumulate in the body for long amounts of time.
To hear this was an absolute shock to me. I had no clue that PFAS could travel through us like that. It is even more alarming to read just how much of this we are around on a daily basis. Finding levels of PFAS in breastmilk has to be where we draw the line, something needs to be done to stop this or we will be poisoning our children.
This is sad to think that the condition of the Earth is so bad that there is actually a mass contamination of breast milk. Typing that out feels insane. If it hasn't been already a line should be drawn now that so many kids are at risk. PFAs can cause too many life altering diseases and conditions for people not to care.
It is so scary to think that not only are we most likely inhaling and consuming toxic chemicals on a daily basis, but we are also potentially passing them onto our children and there isn’t much we can do to stop it. It's interesting that this isn’t seen as a bigger deal and more people aren’t aware of this.
Its concerning to think that PFAs are so prevalent and widespread that 98% of Americans have some of it in their system. I wonder if there is a way to reduce the amount of PFAs in what we interact with on a daily basis so that people can live healthier lives. I guess the first step is phasing PFAs out of all products, but even then would those banned PFAs continue to circulate?
PFA's seem to be here to stay. As they are measued in parts per trillion, I am curious if humans will ever be able to "clean" ourselves from this pollution. It is hoped that PFA's will be discontinued in their use entirely but until then, consumers should try and stay away from products known to contain PFA's. How will this impact rates of cancer in our generation?
I'm surprised that I didn't know about this earlier, what a scary topic! It's honestly very stressful to think about the fact that we are inhaling and consuming toxins and that we are then passing them down to our children. This definitely needs to be talked about more and something needs to be done.
You did a great job emphasizing how wide spread this problem is. I personally try to resist buying any products that contain PFAS but it truly is hard. I feel like they have found their way into everything. I truly wonder when PFAS contamination will become a national and global priority and what crosses the line. I find this similar to other contaminates where governmental organizations will eventually get serous about limiting contamination but the "acceptable level" will still be far too high.
This is a pretty scary thing to realize. There are such dangerous chemicals in our bodies that can cause very negative health effects. We can't even help but be exposed to them as there in the air and in our water. Women can already be passing these chemicals to newborn babies without knowing about it, and without being able to do anything about it. It's a very terrible situation overall.
Forever chemicals are scary to think about especially considering that new PFA’s are continuously being created by man, because as we try to fight to get rid of the old pfas that have a long lifespan new ones are coming to the scene to create new problems. This article completely suprised me becayse the last thing I would think for to have toxins is the breast milk kids have been feed for years, the thing that is supposed to nourish and feed a newborn is now the thing that can be feeding toxins to your child. They should have free clinic checks for expecting mothers to see if they contain a high amount of toxins in their breast milk and see what the best option will be for them to feed their children and help them consider their options and outcomes.
It is sad how it's essentially unavoidable to protect not only yourself but your children as well. It's just another example of how past generations actions mess with the future. It's sad that we have to wait and see how this will effect the children who are growing up with forever chemicals in their system.
Cases like these are very alarming. I had not heard of PFAS chemicals until we discussed them in class but after I did a little research and was quite alarmed to find that I and my family use some of them in our everyday life. While they are not always harmful it is scary to know that such dangerous chemicals are within reach and that there is documented cases of them already being in our bodies passing them on to our next generation.
PFAs are definitely too common need to have serious regulation on them. If the PFAs are being spread from the mother to the child during labor and childbirth, the child could have health issues later down the line that are completely out of their control. It is insane that regulation on products which are to known to contain PFAs has not happened yet, and I feel like it wouldn't be that hard of a job to force PFAs out of consumer products. They put the citizens at risk and should be a top priority for legislation.
This article was super interesting to read! I had no idea PFAS could be transferred this way! It’s super scary that PFAS can be transferred in something so universal such as drinking water. Clean drinking water is an absolute necessity for everyone. Considering PFAS is also nicknamed a “forever chemical”, I am surprised that so many people are uneducated on the subject.
When I read articles or summaries regarding pollutants, I am familiar with the effects that these toxic chemicals have, thus I am not usually surprised by any information as it is already expected, sadly. Nevertheless, I was greatly surprised and saddened by the information provided in your summary. Conducting researches on mothers’ breast milk was the last thing that would come to my mind. The fact that no official ban on PFAS has been placed yet, with all the clear evidence and data, concerns me and many others. It is unfortunate that our health is not prioritized over other economic benefits and personal gains. The “forever chemical” is a great nickname that accurately describes PFAS and is also an indication of the long-lasting impacts these chemical toxins hold. Furthermore, the fact that there is a presence of PFA chemicals that are not currently being produced shows that this issue is a multigenerational one. We cannot prevent previous consumption of PFAS; however we can fight for a ban (or regulations) on PFAS for future generations. In summary, this is one of the many other issues that further confirms the prioritization of financial benefits over human health.
It's disturbing how this article makes PFAs seem to be everywhere. I can't believe how vague this topic is, because I'm sure many people aren't even aware of the toxicity in everyday products, or even the air. I'm shocked that 98% of Americans have some in their bloodstream, and it makes me wonder how much I've been exposed. I'm curious how it will affect us long-term...
This is interesting because it shows how PFA's can infiltrate organisms and specifically humans. It is no longer about how they stay in the environment forever and do not get broken down, now it is about how they affect humans. And it is not even just on level, there is a primary level and secondary and probably tertiary levels. That is pretty scary.
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