Everything you need to know about PFAS and how they impact our health

With recent research revealing that diets rich in processed foods can increase levels of PFAS (or ‘forever chemicals’) in our blood, how worried should we be?

It’s no secret that we rely heavily on manufactured goods in our day-to-day lives. From electronics to household cleaning products and cookware, the UK is currently the ninth-largest manufacturing nation in the world. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine whether the chemicals used in these products are safe for our health.

PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a key component of lots of common household products. This includes non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets, and firefighting foam. But, we can also find these substances in food and drink, including our drinking water.

Sounds overwhelming? By understanding the risk PFAS pose to our health and making smart choices where possible, we can help to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the harmful effects of these chemicals.

Where do you find PFAS?

PFAS have many uses. They’re a class of chemical that are added to products to help make them more durable. For example, they can help to make items more resistant to things like heat and water. Their presence in many manufactured goods means that, chances are, we’ve all been exposed to them. Along with household products, we find PFAS in many cosmetic products and clothing items.

“Whether purposefully or not, a lot of products do have PFAS,” explains Stephanie Metzger, Policy Adviser in Sustainable Chemicals for the Royal Society of Chemistry. “While occasional exposure to them won’t harm you immediately, research shows repeated exposure to these chemicals can harm our liver, kidneys, fertility and immune system.”

PFAS are often described as ‘forever chemicals’, meaning that once they’re in your body, it’s hard to eliminate them. Along with the health risks listed above, repeated exposure to these chemicals can also increase the likelihood of thyroid disease, low birth weight, and even cancer.

The good from the bad

“It’s important to know that not every type of PFAS is known to be toxic,” says Stephanie. “The three main ones to be aware of are PFOS and PFOA and PFHxS. Research shows these to have negative health effects. They’ve since been restricted or banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“In general, PFAS aren’t on a list of ingredients. This is mainly because we usually don’t have an ingredients list for something like a waterproof raincoat or a piece of food packaging. If they are listed, they are often listed as an ingredient under the trade name of the product (e.g. Teflon, the brand name for the chemical abbreviated as PTFE).

“Cosmetics is probably the one area where we have an ingredient list. According to the US FDA, some common PFAS ingredients found in cosmetics include perfluorohexylethyl triethoxysilane, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), trifluoropropyl cyclotetrasiloxane, and trifluoropropyl cyclopentasiloxane.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry is calling on the government to establish more standards for PFAS in drinking water, enforce stricter regulatory limits on allowable levels of PFAS in industrial discharges, and develop plans for a national chemicals regulator.

On an individual level, the most important thing we can do is to stay alert to PFAS and spread awareness where possible. Writing to our local MP can further our impact. Find more information at

How can we reduce our exposure?

With high quantities of PFAS present in many products, it’s hard to eradicate them entirely from our environment. But there are some ways we can limit our exposure.

  • Buy packaging-free fruit and veg. Although discussions with supermarkets on reducing PFAS in food packaging are underway, there is still a long way to go before all UK supermarkets are PFAS-free. If you can, buy packaging-free fruit, veg, and meat when shopping.
  • Limit fast food. PFAS are often a crucial component of greaseproof packaging, which is often used to help transport fast food, like pizzas and burgers.
  • Avoid Teflon and other non-scratch pans. Many cooking pots with a non-stick coating may contain PFAS that can contaminate our food. Switching to stainless steel, ceramic, or PFAS-free cookware, can help us to avoid them.

High levels of PFAS in our water supply have, naturally, caused concern among researchers, too. While some water-filtration systems claim to remove chemicals from drinking water, we need more research is to determine their effectiveness.

“Household water filtration systems, fitted at the tap or using a jug with a filter, could be useful for removing PFAS from drinking water,” says Stephanie. “However, some technologies are more effective than others, and more research is needed on these. Most household water filtration jugs use granulated carbon filters. It is unknown how effective these household versions are at removing PFAS.”

Awareness is growing all the time, but if you want to check whether the companies you buy from are making an effort to eliminate them, then look to Here, you’ll find a non-exhaustive list of brands that are aiming to mitigate the presence of PFAS in their products.

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