When you bake muffins in a non-stick tin, do you think about how the non-stick coating is going to affect your health? There has been enough publicity around damaged Teflon that some reading this will likely think about the harm that can come from chipped non-stick coating. After all, who wants to eat that stuff? But I still doubt that most people think about the health consequences of the vapors that are being emitted from the heated non-stick pan or the chemicals that are being leached into their muffins while they bake them.
Do you think about the vapors coming up from carpet-covered in-floor heating? Do you think about the health consequences of the particularly slippery dental floss that has become so popular? Do you think about how non-clump kitty litter may affect the health of your children? Do you think about how water-repellant packaging chemicals seep into the food they cover?
Most people don’t think about those things. Consumer products with non-stick coatings are such a pervasive part of life that they’re rarely thought about at all. Most people assume that those products are safe and that the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and other regulatory agencies wouldn’t let people use them if they were dangerous.
Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that the chemicals used to make non-stick consumer products, chemicals such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, a.k.a. C8), are toxic and that they’re related (causally, but that’s difficult to prove) to many diseases. Even more worrisome is the fact that organofluorine compounds like PFOA bioaccumulate — meaning that they are not excreted from the body. Rather, they accumulate in the body with each exposure, and the risk of suffering from ill-health because of them increases as the toxic load on the body increases. Additionally, man-made organofluorine compounds accumulate in the environment and the food-chain. Creatures who are high on the food chain, like humans, get exposed to these chemical compounds that have concentrated our food. We’re also affected by them when they’re in the water that we drink and the air that we breathe.
Whether you think about it or not, you have PFOA and other organofluorine compounds in your blood. Since they started being produced in the 1950s, PFOAs and other organofluorine compounds, have become so pervasive that every person, and every living creature tested, has organofluorines in his or her body (1).
PFOAs, and other organoflurine compounds, are toxic to living creatures. In animal studies, PFOAs have “been found to cause liver toxicity, disruption of lipid metabolism and the immune and endocrine systems, adverse neurobehavioral effects, neonatal toxicity and death, and tumors in multiple organ systems” (2), as well as “cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors” (3). In humans, elevated levels of PFOAs in the blood have been linked to “testicular cancer, liver cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension” (3), as well as seizures, kidney failure, miscarriage and birth defects (4). DNA damage has been linked to organofluorine compounds (3). The toxicity of organofluorine compounds is widely spread across many organ systems, and the diseases that are related to them are multi-symptom, chronic diseases.
In addition to being found in thousands of household products like carpeting, non-stick pans, waterproof clothes, dental floss, kitty litter and cosmetics (4), organofluorine compounds are also found in “aerosol propellants, surfactants, refrigerants, plastics, anesthetics, pesticides, plant growth regulators, medicines, adhesives, fire retardants, and even blood substitutes” (5). These products are used daily by millions of people, most of whom aren’t aware that they’re exposing themselves to toxins.
Organofluorine compounds are particularly dangerous because they essentially never biodegrade, and accumulate in the bodies of living beings while moving through the food-chain (6). Organofluorines have been “detected everywhere—produce and beef in American grocery stores, polar bears in the Arctic, children in the remote Faeroe Islands. One analysis of blood banks from around the world showed that nearly all of the blood contained C8. The lone exception was a set of archived samples that had been collected from Korean War veterans before 1952.” (4).
Organofluorine accumulation is getting worse every day, and with each generation. Organofluorine compounds have been found in umbilical cord blood (3) and breast milk, and children throughout the world are exposed to these toxic chemical compounds every day of their lives. As more and more organofluorines accumulate in each person, the toxic burden will get worse, and health consequences will become increasingly dire.
Unfortunately, “there are no reported studies of successful interventions to remove PFCs from the human body. Exposure to these commonly used non-stick and stain-resistant compounds is widespread, but excretion from the body is impaired as a result of the chemical nature of some of these agents and their propensity to be re-absorbed in the kidney and the enterohepatic [liver] circulation” (6).
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With the progressive accumulation of organofluorine compounds, and as human health outcomes worsen as a result, there will undoubtedly be angry people who want to hold those responsible accountable for the creation of toxic organofluorines. As is often the case, the responsible parties are greedy corporations and failing regulatory agencies.
Corporate and Regulatory Culprits
Chemical giants DuPont and 3M are the primary producers of organofluorines that are used in household products. In their production of these goods, they have made billions in profit, while making people (and animals and plants) sick. For years DuPont covered up evidence of the toxic nature of PFOAs/C8, and rather than ceasing to use toxic organofluorine compounds when the toxicity of PFOA/C8 became clear, they switched from C8 to other organofluorine compounds which are no better for human or environmental health, but are not as well studied as C8 (4).
The regulatory agencies that are supposed to monitor the safety of chemicals in our environment, including the E.P.A., have failed to regulate organofluorine compounds in any meaningful way. “Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the E.P.A. has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years” (3). Organofluorine compounds are not restricted by the E.P.A., and industrial giants/polluters like DuPont and 3M produce thousands of tons of them each year.
Details about the malfeasance of DuPont, the role of 3M, and the unwillingness and inability of the E.P.A. to protect people from the toxic, harmful effects of PFOA/C8 can be found in the brilliant exposés, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” written by Nathaniel Rich and published in The New York Times Magazine on January 6, 2016, and “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia: Home to one of the most brazen, deadly corporate gambits in U.S. history” written by Mariah Blaze and published in The Huffington Post.
Also exemplifying the problem of industry-controlled regulation of organofluorine compounds is the following from the article “Human detoxification of perfluorinated compounds”:
While there is increasing evidence suggesting health sequelae associated with PFC bioaccumulation, there are some authors and publications that have minimized concern about the accrual of these chemical agents. It is imperative to recognize that much of the research related to potentially toxic compounds, including PFCs, is undertaken or funded by the specific companies, industry-supported organizations and affiliated scientists involved with the production of the chemicals being studied. Furthermore, some toxicology journals routinely use reviewers from chemical companies to scrutinize and review manuscript submissions about the compounds their company manufactures. (6)
As long as science and journalism are corrupted by money, and regulatory agencies and politicians are controlled by corporations, citizens of the world have little protection against the toxic chemicals that can accumulate in our bodies and poison us.
Another source of toxic organofluorine compounds is fluorinated pharmaceuticals. Approximately 20% of the prescription drugs on the market are fluorinated (7), including fluoroquinolone antibiotics (Cipro/ciprofloxacin, Levaquin/levofloxacin, Avelox/moxifloxacin, Floxin/ofloxacin), statins (Lipitor, Crestor and others), antimalarial drugs (Lariam/mefloquine), antidepressants (SSRIs including Prozac/fluoxetine), anesthesias, and chemotherapy drugs. Depending on how the drugs are formulated, and what position fluorine is attached to carbon, they can form poisonous metabolites (8, 9) that may be responsible for the severe side-effects associated with many of the fluorinated drugs, and they may be contributing to the multi-symptom diseases of modernity. (Many of the drugs listed have been shown to damage mitochondria (10, 11), and damaged mitochondria lead to a cycle of oxidative stress and further damage to mitochondria (12). Fluorine metabolites, such as fluoroacetate, have also been shown to damage mitochondria and increase oxidative stress (13). Many multi-symptom, chronic diseases are linked to both mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress.)
In an article published in 1997 (the use of fluorine-containing pesticides has escalated since), it is noted that, “Over the past 15 years, the number of fluorine-containing agricultural chemicals has grown from 4% to approximately 9% of all agrochemicals and has increased in number faster than non-fluorinated agrochemicals. These compounds are primarily used as herbicides (48%), insecticides (23%), and fungicides (18%)” (5). Exposure to these fluorinated pesticides is hazardous to the health of both agricultural workers and consumers (14).
What Can be Done?
In May, 2015, more than 200 scientists signed The Madrid Statement, “which expresses concern about the production of all fluorochemicals, or PFASs, including those that have replaced PFOA” (3). In the Statement, they suggested that the following action take place:
- Assemble, in collaboration with industry and governments, a global inventory of all PFASs in use or in the environment, including precursors and degradation products, and their functionality, properties, and toxicology.
- Develop analytical methods for the identification and quantification of additional families of PFASs, including fluorinated alternatives.
- Continue monitoring for legacy PFASs in different matrices and for environmental reservoirs of PFASs.
- Continue investigating the mechanisms of toxicity and exposure (e.g., sources, fate, transport, and bioaccumulation of PFASs), and improve methods for testing the safety of alternatives.
- Bring research results to the attention of policymakers, industry, the media, and the public.
- Enact legislation to require only essential uses of PFASs, and enforce labeling to indicate uses.
- Require manufacturers of PFASs to conduct more extensive toxicological testing, make chemical structures public, provide validated analytical methods for detection of PFASs, and assume extended producer responsibility and implement safe disposal of products and stockpiles containing PFASs.
- Work with industry to develop public registries of products containing PFASs.
- Make public annual statistical data on production, imports, and exports of PFASs.
- Whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs in government procurement.
- In collaboration with industry, ensure that an infrastructure is in place to safely transport, dispose of, and destroy PFASs and PFAS-containing products, and enforce these measures.
- Make data on PFASs publicly available, including chemical structures, properties, and toxicology.
- Provide scientists with standard samples of PFASs, including precursors and degradation products, to enable environmental monitoring of PFASs.
- Work with scientists and governments to develop safe disposal methods for PFASs.
- Provide the supply chain with documentation on PFAS content and safe disposal guidelines.
- Develop nonfluorinated alternatives that are neither persistent nor toxic.
- Stop using PFASs where they are not essential or when safer alternatives exist.
- Develop inexpensive and sensitive PFAS quantification methods for compliance testing.
- Label products containing PFASs, including chemical identity and safe disposal guidelines.
- Invest in the development and use of nonfluorinated alternatives.
Purchasing organizations, retailers, and individual consumers:
- Whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs. These include many products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick.
- Question the use of such fluorinated “performance” chemicals added to consumer products.
Indeed, all of those recommendations need to be put into action. Given the accumulation of organofluorine compounds in our bodies and environment, the time for putting these recommendations into action is now–before it’s too late.
- Environmental Science & Technology, “Production of Perfluorinated Carboxylic Acids (PFCAs) from the Biotransformation of Polyfluoroalkyl Phosphate Surfactants (PAPS): Exploring Routes of Human Contamination”
- Environmental Health Perspectives, “The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)”
- The New York Times Magazine, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”
- The Huffington Post, “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia: Home to one of the most brazen, deadly corporate gambits in U.S. history”
- Environmental Science & Technology, “Fluorinated Organics in the Biosphere”
- Public Health, “Human detoxification of perfluorinated compounds”
- Biomolecular Research & Therapeutics, “Fluorine is Flourishing in Pharmaceuticals”
- Verdel, B.M., “Mechanism-based drug exposure classification in pharmacoepidemiological studies” Thesis Utrecht University – with ref. – with summary in Dutch, ISBN 978-90-393-5377-6 © 2010 Bertha Maria Verde
- British Journal of Cancer, “The anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil is metabolized by the isolated perfused rat liver and in rats into highly toxic fluoroacetate.”
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, “Medication-induced mitochondrial damage and disease”
- Science Translational Medicine, “Bactericidal Antibiotics Induce Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Oxidative Damage in Mammalian Cells”
- Rejuvination Research, “Reactive oxygen species production in the mitochondrial matrix: implications for the mechanism of mitochondrial mutation accumulation.”
- Biochemical Pharmacology, “Differential toxicity of fluoroacetate to heart, kidney and brain mitochondria of the living rat”
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