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What are they?

The acronym PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of chemicals that have been and are presently used for a variety of purposes. Most notably, they are found in non-stick, water, stain and grease-resistant products.

PFAS are commonly used and highly dangerous. The use of long-chain PFAS in the U.S. is being phased out due to an increased awareness of their harmful effects, yet, the short-chain versions -- or those with a smaller number of carbon fluorine bonds -- are still actively used in consumer products.

Their use in items like food packaging increases the potential for exposure in people. These chemicals can leach out of individual food packaging products into food and beverages. Although the specifics of this leaching process have not been thoroughly studied, scientists agree that this is one of the most common ways people are exposed to PFAS.

Why are they harmful?

PFAS are bio-accumulative, meaning that they gradually build up in humans over periods of time. Subsequently, they do not break down through natural means because they are a synthesized non-organic compound with an extremely strong chemical bond.

These chemicals are so persistent that they can be found in 97% of human blood samples, according to a study published in 2017. Similar studies have also detected short-chain PFAS in human organs, suggesting that we may not be able to eliminate these chemicals from our bodies.

PFAS have been linked to several serious health issues, including:

  • kidney and testicular cancer
  • liver malfunction
  • thyroid diseases
  • delayed puberty
  • early menopause in women
  • reduced immune system responses in children
  • birth defects in newborns
  • elevated cholesterol for both producers and consumers of goods containing PFAS

Exposure to PFAS through food packaging is prevalent in low income communities because they often lack access to affordable or good quality fresh food.

What can we do?

Here in Rhode Island, we are fighting to pass a ban on this entire class of chemicals. This is part of a larger effort across the country to get similar bills passed. Using strength in numbers we can get this toxic chemical out of our lives!

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