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What Is PFOA and How Does It Affect You?

How often do you buy a product simply because it’s water-proof, non-stick, or stain-resistant? Probably a lot, right?

From water-proof clothing to non-stick cooking pans, it’s hard to pass up products that seem too good to be true.

The promise of non-stick cookware is great for frying eggs on Sunday morning, but the chemicals used to make the pan might not be. What exactly goes into developing these types of products? 

One of the main chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is used to make products resistant to water, stains, heat, sticking, and grease. 

Haven’t heard of it? You’re not alone. 

Why is it so important? You could be drinking it in your water. 

Read on to learn about PFOA and its potentially harmful effects.

What Is Perfluorooctanoic Acid?

PFOA, also known as perfluorooctanoic acid, is a man-made chemical found in products designed to resist water, heat, oil, grease, and stains. 

Without getting too complicated, perfluorooctanoic acid is part of a larger group of chemicals called perfluorochemicals (PFCs). These chemicals are used to develop coatings that make products resistant to different elements. 

Some of the most common products containing PFOA are everyday items. These include cleaning products, cosmetics, upholstery, and carpet (a stain-resistant couch, for example), non-stick cookware, leather, grease-proof food packaging, and certain adhesives.

Teflon products, known for their non-stick coatings, are the most recognized when it comes to PFOA; however, since 2013, the chemical has not been used in production, so it is no longer an issue. 

How Am I Exposed to It?

Exposure to PFOA occurs by using products containing the chemical or consuming water or food that is contaminated. 

An interesting fact to keep in mind is that the majority of people have traces of PFOA (or a similar chemical) in their blood. Since it is so commonly used in everyday products, most of us have already been exposed. 

Packaging plays a large role in the contamination of food. For example, fast-food restaurants might use containers and wrappers that are designed to be grease-resistant. 

Everyday household items also pose the risk of exposure, including cleaning products, paint, and water-repellent fabrics. 

One of the most unexpected ways of exposure is through public drinking water. How does this happen, exactly? 

When consumers use and dispose of products containing perfluorooctanoic acid, it can end up in the environment, including the surrounding water and soil. Large manufacturers often dispose of PFOA in landfills. People who work in facilities that manufacture products containing PFOA are at a greater risk of being exposed.

Because of this, the water-soluble chemical eventually makes its way into our public and private water supplies. 

Is PFOA Harmful to My Health?

Perfluorooctanoic acid has been used in product development for many years (since the 1950’s, to be exact). Its effects on consumers have been looked at much more closely within the last few years. 

Although the research around PFOA is relatively new, there have been studies that suggest high levels of exposure could put you at risk for health issues. In May 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a health advisory for PFOA after looking at the results from multiple studies. 

For people who have had a lot of exposure, the risks include immune disorders, early puberty, thyroid issues, inflammatory conditions like Ulcerative Colitis, changes in cholesterol, and liver damage. 

Pregnant women may also experience problems since it can be transferred to an unborn baby through the umbilical cord, or to an infant through breastfeeding. 

The risk of cancer is still uncertain. Some studies suggest kidney and testicular cancer are possible; however, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) doesn’t give a direct yes or no response, stating PFOA is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” 

How Can I Stay Safe?

On a personal level, you can avoid using products made with PFOs and PFOA. These chemicals are restricted in the U.S., but still being used in other countries. It is important to keep this in mind when purchasing items manufactured overseas. 

It’s a great idea to use high-quality water filters in your home to help prevent exposure. Read about the different types here to choose the best one for your home and family.

On a larger scale, in 2006, the EPA asked eight major U.S. companies to eliminate the use of chemicals like PFOA, hoping to phase it out entirely by 2015. The companies indicated they did in 2016.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to study the risk of chemicals like PFOA in foods. In December 2019, the latest study found that out of 91 food samples, only tilapia and ground turkey were found to have detectable levels of PFOs. 

Don’t worry–no need to panic! The number of chemicals found in the two foods was so low that a threat to your health is very unlikely. If you’re still concerned about eating fish, you can always check any fishing advisories in your state. 

Most importantly, the FDA determined there is currently no scientific evidence you should eliminate certain foods from your diet to avoid exposure. 

We Can Provide the Water Filter You Need 

We understand you’re probably not thrilled to add perfluorooctanoic acid to the list of harmful chemicals in your tap water. Quenching your thirst should be refreshing, not terrifying.  Luckily, we’re here to offer you some peace of mind. We offer a variety of water filters that provide you the best protection from unwanted contaminants, putting your mind at ease.

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