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Sources of PFAS Contamination: Connection to Cancer

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on October 24th, 2019

PFAS have been found in rubbers and plastics, electronics and some dental floss, textiles, paper, and other materials that are resistant to water, grease or stains. Though potential sources of PFAS contamination are widespread, the chemicals have become notorious as drinking water contaminants as a result of industrial releases and the use of AFFF.

People can be exposed to small amounts of PFOS or PFOA in everyday life through direct contact with consumer products that contain these chemicals, through the air they breathe, or through the food they eat. PFAS are found in the bodies of 99% of Americans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified PFOA as possibly causing some cancers, based on limited evidence in humans that it can cause testicular and kidney cancer, and limited evidence in lab animals. Exposure to PFAS at even relatively low concentrations has been shown to affect human health. By potentially damaging genetic information and mutating the cellular structures, these toxins could lead to a whole host of health problems like hormonal dysfunction, auto-immune disorders, and cancer.

These 'forever chemicals' can build up in the human body over time, given their mobility, and bioaccumulation potential. Therefore, as people get exposed to PFAS from different sources the level of PFAS in their bodies may lead to adverse health effects over time. It takes three to five years for half an ingested dose of PFAS to pass through the system. However, permanent cellular changes and mutations can affect germ cells in the host and even upset the development of future offspring.

Everyday Exposure to Cancer-Causing Chemicals

There is clear evidence that being exposed to high enough levels of PFAS is linked to adverse health outcomes. These include potential effects on the immune system, metabolism, pregnancy, children's cognition, and neurobehavioral development. Federal and regulatory authorities have raised concerns about how many people are exposed to PFAS and whether or not current levels of exposure are safe.

Given the numerous sources of PFAS in everyday life, it is difficult to identify which behaviors contribute most significantly to PFAS exposure. However, the main types of human exposure sources for PFAS include:

  • Public water systems and drinking water wells
  • Surface water or groundwater receiving run-off or seepage from areas where firefighting foam was used
  • Indoor air and dust in spaces that contain consumer products treated with PFAS
  • Outdoor air near areas associated with PFAS chemical production sites or large industrial manufacturing process utilizing PFAS-containing materials
  • Commercial household products like polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products
  • Food - PFAS can build up in crops, fish, and livestock, ultimately contaminating the food we eat; human breast milk may contribute to exposure in infants since some PFAS have been detected in human breast milk
  • Workplace, including production facilities or facilities that manufacture goods made with PFAS.

Food, air, and water have become contained globally as a result of manufacture, dispose, and use of PFAS-containing products. Products that might contain PFAS include:

  • Food packings, such as microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers
  • Stain-resistant sofas, carpets, rugs, and furniture
  • Stain-repellant or water-repellant clothing
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Aerospace, medical, and automotive applications
  • Certain cosmetics

PFAS substances are often listed on consumer product labels, so you should be wary of any ingredient with 'fluoro' in the name.

If you or someone you know were contaminated with PFAS and are now diagnosed with kidney or testicular cancer, feel free to contact our experts at Environmental Litigations Group P.C. Our job is to answer your questions, explain your legal options, and help you pursue the best solution for your specific circumstances.