Dangerous PFAS Health Effects You Should Know | EcoOnline US

Dangerous PFAS Health Effects You Should Know

Written by Ryan LeClaire

Published March 26, 2024

As her company’s Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Manager, Lara wants everyone to remember that safety is about people, not just policies and procedures. She’s created a presentation on PFAS health effects so her employees can understand the human impact beyond the warning labels. 

She is the face of her company’s safety culture, so she wants all employees to know their health is her top priority. She wants everyone to be fully aware of the known effects of PFAS or “forever chemicals” on humans and the environment. 

Scientists are still somewhat split on the exact risks associated with working with PFAS chemicals, but here’s a brief look at what we do know.

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What is the effect of PFAS on humans?

When determining the exact risk that any substance poses to human beings, we need to answer 3 big questions: 

                                                          How much of it is present in the environment 

We know PFAS can be present in our drinking water and a lot of the products we use every day.  

                                                          How likely are we to come into contact with it?  

PFAS chemicals appear fairly often in day-to-day living, and very often for people working in environments where these chemicals are used. 

                                                          How much exposure is dangerous? 

We don’t know this yet. We don’t have a finite number that says ingesting X amount over Y days, months, or years is considered harmful to your health. 

Right now, safety professionals should do all they can to limit exposure, both at work and at home to reduce the effects of PFAS on humans. 

What are the known health effects of PFAS or forever chemicals?

Again, the exact exposure needed to cause health complications is unclear, but there are proven risks.

High exposure to PFAS chemicals has been proven to cause the following problems: 

  • Higher cholesterol and potential obesity  
  • Decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women 
  • A number of developmental difficulties in children that can range from low birth weight to accelerated puberty 
  • Negative effects on the immune system that may hurt the body’s ability to fight infection or respond to vaccines

The term PFSAS could describe any one of over 15,000 synthetic chemicals. Most of the health research available right now only focuses on the most well-known and most often-used chemicals. So, in essence, there could be other problems that simply haven’t been well-documented yet.  

Worker in hazmat suit and mask with big bags full of product

Do PFAS cause cancer?

This is the big question. Has exposure to PFAS been linked to cancer? Yes. There is substantial evidence to link its connection to kidney, prostate, and testicular cancer. 

The most famous example was among U.S. Air Force Servicemen. The firefighting foam they used was found to contain significant amounts of PFAS chemicals.  

Flame retardant foams and materials have been revealed to contain some of the highest levels of PFAS of any widely used products. Researchers found that elevated blood levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS, a specific type of PFAS) were linked to a higher risk of developing testicular cancer. 

This is an example of a high-risk substance being used in high volume. Not everyone who works with or around PFAS chemicals will be subject to this level of exposure, but the data is still alarming. 

PFAS regulations around the world

If your business exports your products or imports supplies/materials from other countries, it’s a good idea to know the global landscape when it comes to PFAS. Most nations have acknowledged the negative effects of forever chemicals, but they are all moving to ban/phase out PFAS use at various speeds. It’s also important to know that each country will have their own regulatory and government bodies overseeing chemical management. 

North America 

In the US, national oversight is managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while military aspects are managed by the Department of Defense (DoD). There are also unique state-by-state regulations that are managed by various private agencies similar to the EPA. 

In Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) monitors regulations, with support from each corresponding provincial government. However, in terms of regulations, you will not find significant differences between the provinces. 

Europe

The management of PFAS falls under the following regulations: 

  • EU Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Regulations  
  • Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation 
  • The European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) EU PFAS Restriction Proposal, which is likely to become effective as early as 2026 

Gavel clipboard with paper and yellow construction hat on a wooden table

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) maintains a dynamic list of PFAS and classifications. 

Australia

The Australian Government has adopted a combination of regulatory acts and voluntary approaches to manage and dispose of PFAS. This includes the 2018 Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination between the Federal Government with state and territory governments. 

At the same time, importers need to be compliant with the regulations and standards listed in the Industrial Chemicals Act of 2019. 

Asia

China, Japan, and South Korea are moving to ban PFAS in accordance with the Stockholm Convention on POP. 

In recent years, we’ve also seen: 

  • China adding PFOA and PFOS to its List of New Pollutants for Priority Management to eliminate/restrict in March 2023 
  • South Korea announcing its 3rd Basic Plan (2021-2025) for the management/elimination of POPs 

We can help you manage your company's PFAS

As we mentioned earlier, your company may be using any one of 15,000 synthetic chemicals that have been known to contain PFAS. How do you manage that volume? How can you keep track of new risks? 

EcoOnline’s chemical management solution offers a legislation module that shows a list of PFAS substances that have been identified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This can help you easily find these chemicals in your workplace, so you can make the necessary substitutions. 

But, you don’t need to manage this all alone! Our solution is already protecting over 10,000 customers in over 70 industries worldwide!  Explore our chemical substitution software now.   

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Author Ryan LeClaire

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