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What are forever chemicals and how do they impact your health?

girl washing broccoli with tap water

There’s been a recent incident in Wallonia here in Belgium finding out that the tap water in Chievres contained 5x the allowed amount of PFAS. We used to think that our water quality in Europe is great and there’s no problem drinking tap water, however, incidents with an increased amount of chemicals, microplastics, heavy metals or parasites have become more and more common.

The city council usually claims that the water quality is great and if yours is not, it’s due to the pipes in your house that are old and or contaminated. That’s definitely true, but I don’t believe that our drinking water is of that great quality anymore. Nobody’s even measuring the amount of hormones present in tap water.

But let’s come back to PFAS - you may wonder what they are and where do you find them?

What are PFAS? Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals widely used in various industrial and consumer products for their water- and grease-resistant properties.They’re also known as the forever chemicals and are still pretty commonly used in non-stick cookware (teflon), food packaging, but you can also find them in or on any waterproof clothing, outside gear, shoes and more.

Since they are resistant to breakdown, we can find them in our soil and groundwater and therefore also in our tap water, but also in the plant foods, fish, meat and dairy products we consume.

Which products of daily use can contain PFAS? Here are some examples:

  • Teflon and nonstick cookware

  • Carpets

  • Mattresses

  • Fabrics or textiles (water and stain resistant)

  • Conditioners

  • Sunscreens

  • Takeout containers

So you may not be using any of these products, but it’s quite possible that you’re still consuming PFAS in your drinking water or food. And also consider that if you are taking your shower, you may not be drinking the water, but your skin is absorbing it.

How do PFAS enter your body?

  • As just mentioned above, contaminated water and food are primary sources of PFAS exposure. These chemicals can leach into groundwater from industrial sites or landfills, contaminating drinking water sources and agricultural produce.

  • Inhalation - airborne PFAS particles near industrial areas or when using PFAS-containing products, can be inhaled and enter your body.

  • Exposure can also occur through direct contact with products containing PFAS, like certain fabrics or carpets or via contaminated water that absorbs via your skin.

Research has linked exposure to PFAS with various adverse health effects, including:

  • Infertility: a study from the Environmental Health journal found a dramatic rise in fertility rates in Minnesota after the city started filtering forever chemicals from its tap water. (Source)

  • Thyroid health: PFASs can compete with thyroxine (T4) for binding to the human thyroid hormone transport protein transthyretin (TTR) which may lead to reduce thyroid hormone levels (Source).

  • Liver issues: researchers found that the most common PFAS detected in humans were all connected with elevated levels of liver enzymes (ALT) in the blood, which can cause liver damage. (Source)

  • Developmental delays in babies and children: increased risk of ADHD, autism, and cognitive impairment in general, obesity, impaired immune function (Source)

  • And there are even more studies that have proven health complications from forever chemicals like a weakened immune system, kidney cancer, and hormone disruption. (Source)

One way of course to avoid these chemicals is by reducing your exposure to them:

  1. Avoiding or reducing exposure to products listed above or making sure the one you buy is not contaminated with PFAS (or other chemicals by the way).

  2. Buying drinking water in glass bottles

  3. Using a good water filter for drinking water, cooking, tea, coffee and ideally for the bathroom (shower and faucet as well)

What water filters can you use to remove PFAS and other toxins from your drinking water?

Given the concern about PFAS in drinking water, choosing the right water filtration system can help mitigate exposure. Some effective filtration methods to remove PFAS include:

  • Activated carbon filters: These filters effectively capture and remove PFAS compounds from water. Granular activated carbon (GAC) and carbon block filters are commonly used in household filtration systems. The well-known BRITA filter is a bare minimum of what you should use. Other filters like AquaTRU, Berkey or Berkshire are more potent options to filter your water.

  • Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems: RO systems utilize a semipermeable membrane to remove contaminants, including PFAS, by forcing water through the membrane, leaving impurities behind.

What are the pros and cons for these filter options?

  • Bottled water: buying bottled water always comes with the disadvantage of having to carry and stock bottles. Opting for glass bottles is essential unless you’d want to accumulate more microplastics that mimic estrogen in your body (and the environment), but they’re much heavier than plastic of course

  • Bigger carbon filters with better filtration capacity than BRITA (like AquaTRU, Berkshire and Berkey) come at much higher price but also take up quite some counter space, so you need to be able to place them somewhere.

  • Reverse osmosis is great as you can usually install them throughout the house, so once you have this installed, you don’t have to worry about counter space etc. They need to be properly installed and maintained though and the initial cost is much higher than the carbon filter options.

In terms of cost, they’re probably about the same if you count initial cost and exchange filters against the sum of €€ you spend on bottled water. That’s only true if you stay with bottled water options that are around 0.40€/1L though.

PFAS compounds present a significant concern due to their persistence, widespread use, and potential health risks. While efforts to regulate and minimize their use are ongoing, the only thing you can do is try to reduce exposure and actively detoxing forever chemicals on a regular basis.

Stay tuned for my next article where I’ll share with you my best tips for detoxing forever chemicals.


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