Sanitary Warning: Some Non-Stick Utensils May Have Health Risks

  • These products, PFAs, can easily migrate into the air, dust, food, soil, and water, and accumulate in the human body.
  • For an FDA study, water samples from a dairy farm where fire foams containing PFAs were used were analyzed. According to their findings, in these samples, there were 35 times more PFAs detected
  • The FDA also analyzed samples of agricultural products from farms near a PFA manufacturing plant.

PFAs are chemical substances present in many products, but little is known about their possible adverse effects on human health. The use of non-stick pans has become popular in a relatively short time. So far they have been considered as safe utensils, although little by little some studies have suggested that the materials used for their manufacture could have unknown effects on human health.

Now, new research commissioned by the Foods & Drugs Administration (FDA), the highest health authority in the United States, discovered that PFAs can be harmful to health.

What are the PFAs?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the control and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs (medications), vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), cosmetics, animal foods & feed and veterinary products.

It is a family of 5,000 synthetic chemicals, known as “chemicals forever,” given its extremely long medical life, and its persistence in the environment and in the human body.

It is an abbreviation of ‘perfluoroalkyl substances’, and includes several families of substances, such as PFOS, PFOA, and GenX. All of them are substances that share fluorine and carbon bonds, strong bonds that are difficult to break down in the environment.

What damage can they cause?

These products, PFAs, can easily migrate into the air, dust, food, soil, and water, and accumulate in the human body. At the moment it is known that, at certain concentrations, they can cause damage to the liver and thyroid gland, and have even been linked to problems of fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormonal disorders, and cancer.

In the human organism, PFAs are deposited mainly in the blood, kidneys, and liver. In fact, a 2007 study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States concluded that PFAs could be detected in the blood of 98% of individuals.

What are they for?

These substances are also used in different industries, given their ability to repel oil and water. They have been used since the 1940s, and are part of non-stick products, paints, cleaning products, containers, and even fire-fighting foams.

Now, in the new FDA investigation, whose initial results have been presented at the  29th Annual Meeting, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Europe, held last June in Helsinki, it has been suggested that PFAs can be found in foods, although at safe levels for human health.

How do they get to the food?

Fluorine-containing durable water repellent makes a fabric water-resistant. Fluorosurfactants (also fluorinated surfactants, perfluorinated alkylated substances or PFASs, or Forever Chemicals) are synthetic organofluorine chemical compounds that have multiple fluorine atoms. They can be polyfluorinated or fluorocarbon-based (perfluorinated). As surfactants, they are more effective at lowering the surface tension of water than comparable hydrocarbon surfactants.

For the study, water samples from a dairy farm where fire foams containing PFAs were used were analyzed. According to their findings, in these samples, there were 35 times more PFAs detected, a level that is currently set at 70 parts per trillion.

Up to 13 different samples were analyzed in the same farm, apart from water, animal feed samples and milk samples were also analyzed. In all samples, there were detectable levels of PFAs, likely to have originated in fire foams. In fact, the FDA came to determine that there was an excessive amount of PFAs and potentially dangerous to human health, discarding all the milk from that farm.

The same agency noted that, even after cows are not exposed to water or contaminated food, PFAs can remain in them. Only having consumed contaminated food and water for 30 days, it takes 1.5 years for the cow to be free of the compounds in its organic system.

In addition to this specific case, the FDA also analyzed samples of agricultural products from farms near a PFA manufacturing plant. Approximately 20 samples were analyzed, 16 were green leafy vegetables and in 15 of them, there were detectable levels of PFAs. However, in this case, there were no levels high enough to declare them problematic for health, according to the FDA.

Finally, the FDA also analyzed up to 91 samples of food collected as part of the 2017 Total Diet Study, where the same agency controlled about 800 contaminants and nutrients typical of an average in the United States diet. In this case, PFAs were detected in 10 of  91 samples, at lower levels and not problematic for human health.

For the time being, the FDA is committed to further investigating the role of PFAs in food. So far they have established an internal working group for this year.

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Doris Mkwaya

I am a journalist, with more than 12 years of experience as a reporter, author, editor, and journalism lecturer." I've worked as a reporter, editor and journalism lecturer, and am very enthusiastic about bringing what I've learned to this site. 

 


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