Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Regrettable Substitution: What the EPA has found about Teflon's Replacements

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its  toxicity assessments of two  widely popular chemicals: GenX and PFBS.  While they might not be household names, these two chemicals have slowly made their way into many US households as they have become the two go-to replacement chemicals for PFOA and PFOS aka the original Teflon chemicals.   

PFOA and PFOS were forced off the market due to their environment persistence and links to serious health issues including kidney and testicular cancer, immune system dysfunction, developmental and reproductive harm, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and liver damage.  After 2015, when PFOA was officially phased out in the US (PFOS was phased out prior), the chemical companies that produced these widely popular chemicals  quickly found 2 new replacement chemicals that achieved the desired nonstick, water proofing and grease proofing effects:  Gen X technology and PFBS.  While Gen X and PFBS were quickly put into circulation, none were  adequately tested for safety before being put on the market, because this is not required by the federal government.

What has the EPA now concluded? 
In a nutshell, it is another case of ‘regrettable substitution’; where an industry has quickly replaced a known toxic chemical with a similarly structured chemical (in this case they are all part of the group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) that ends up causing very similar harm.

PFAS chemicals have been used for decades to provide non-stick, stain- and water-resistant properties to daily use products.  In most homes, they are commonly found on stain proofed carpets, furniture, pillows, window treatments, tablecloths  (scotch guard etc), winter coats, multiple kitchenware, some mattresses, clothing, food packaging etc.    They are also used in fire-fighting foams and industrially as surfactants, emulsifiers, and coatings.

New versions of products like non-stick pans and scotch guard sprays proudly claim to be “PFOA free”  leading many to believe they are safe, however most of these products have simply been using these untested ‘substitute’ chemicals 

As to specifics, the EPA report confirmed that GenX is associated with harmful effects on the kidney, blood, immune system, liver and development and can lead to an elevated risk of cancer. PFBS was found to be associated with harmful effects on the thyroid and kidney, reproduction and development…. basically  similar health harms as the chemicals they replaced.

The assessments  (Gen X   and PFBS) are still in draft form for public comment-  the EPA is seeking public input on its draft assessments for the next 60 days (until January 16, 2019).

What Does This Mean For You?

As much as poss, you should try to avoid anything that claims to be non stick, water proof or stain resistant.  Here are some specific tips:

in the kitchen
1.  Cook with cast iron, stainless steel or glass
2.  avoid eating out or ordering in, especially from fast food or pizza restaurants who use these chemicals in their paper products
3. avoid microwave popcorn:  pop it in a pot.
4.  My favorite and non-toxic cooking alternatives are all listed under 'MEALTIME' in my  Amazon Shop   (tab on top of the page)

in your living areas
1.  when purchasing upholstered furniture read the fine print :  do not buy anything that says it is stain resistant or water proof.   
2.  do not spray scotch guard or similar products on your furniture
3.  upholstered beds and decorative pillows are often stain resistant too
4.   if purchasing an area rug look for natural fibers like wool or jute ( I have a more detailed rug buying guide here )
5.  Read the label when purchasing carpet cleaners and floor wax as these often contain PFBS in lieu of PFOS

* to be clear"  GenX is not really a chemical, but a trade name for a technology that is used to make highperformance fluoropolymers (e.g., some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  For simplicity I refer to it as a chemical in this post....

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