In the past few years, concern has grown regarding PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as “forever chemicals”), rampant in consumer products ranging from mattresses and Gore-Tech jackets to menstrual underwear and perfumes. These chemicals have been around since the 1940s, and new ones are being developed even today, with little to no research corroborating their safety before they go to market.
PFAS are now found in the bloodstreams of almost all Americans. With repeated exposure, PFAS levels can become high enough in our bodies to impair our immune and thyroid function, cause liver disease, instigate cancer, impede reproduction, and more. Recent research directs consumers’ attention to one more source of PFAS to worry about: the food on our plates.
The newly identified source of these PFAS happens to be the other dirty “P” word: pesticides. Although PFAS are commonly used to make consumer products resistant to water, stains, and heat, they can also be used as dispersing agents and to increase the length of time pesticides remain active.
According to a study published this spring by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 40% of the agricultural pesticide products they tested contain PFAS. This includes Intrepid 2F, the most-used insecticide and second-most used pesticide in California. Almonds, grapes, peaches, and pistachios were all found to be particularly at risk for contamination.
Not only can PFAS end up in the crops we consume, but runoff from farms also commonly contaminates surrounding water supplies, with effects that can last for generations (they are called “forever chemicals” for a reason!).
There is, in fact, no safe level of PFAS, a point echoed even by the EPA. However, despite this admission, the EPA has long remained silent on PFAS in pesticides and has even sought to establish a narrower definition of PFAS that would assist them in shirking the responsibility to crack down on the sale and use of toxic products. Notably, the EPA’s current regulatory model relies on voluntary testing.
Over the past five years, this field of research has grown tremendously. With enough awareness and consumer action – at the local, state, and governmental level – we may have a chance at halting the PFAS threat before even more harm is done.