This graphic describes the PFAS cycle and how PFAS can move from one location to multiple locations with the potential to impact communities.
I started this current series to discuss what is wrong with our country and what we need to do to fix it. While I have discussed some of the topics that I will be including in this series, they have been included in other articles. In this series I will concentrate on a single topic. This will also mean that some of the articles may be slightly shorter than my readers have grown accustomed to, however they will still be written with the same attention to detail. This series will have no set number of articles and will continue to grow as I come across additional subjects.
What are PFAS compounds and how can we test for them?
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are part of a broad chemical group that were first developed in the 1940s. Since then, there have been nearly 5,000 different PFAS compounds that have found their way into commercial use. Some of these compounds are now being phased out due to toxicity concerns, however new fluorinated compounds like Gen X and ADONA are being developed to replace them.
PFAS are well known for their unique chemical properties that repel oil and water and resist temperature, chemicals, and fire. They also have electrical insulating properties. These are the attributes that make PFAS attractive and are why they are found in many durable industrial and everyday products and materials like non-stick surfaces, firefighting foam as a flame retardant, stain resistant materials, water repellent coatings and plating demisters to name a few.
Considered as one of the widely produced and researched chemicals, PFAS can be found in a variety of outlets. According to the US EPA, it is a component in manufacturing food equipment, production facilities, commercial household products, drinking water, and living organisms.
PFOA and PFOS are both highly persistent in human physiology and the environment. In simpler terms, these chemicals do not break down, and additionally, they tend to accumulate gradually. Sufficient studies reveal that exposure to PFAS can contribute to adverse health effects.
Due to their properties, PFAS chemicals have become one of the most-interacted items used by people. It points to a hazard considering that multiple research studies reveal that this has led to widespread health and environmental contamination.
WHY ARE PFAS AN ISSUE?
PFAS chemicals are everywhere and they don’t break down. This is why PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they never go away.
The chemistry is complex because PFAS are not one chemical compound, they are a class of chemical compounds that share the common carbon-fluorine bond however they vary widely by their size, structure, toxicity, and mobility in the environment.
The carbon to fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry, making PFAS compounds particularly resistant to degradation. Since they do not break down and they were used in lots of materials, they are being found everywhere in the environment. States like Michigan have made the effort to test public and private potable water supplies for PFAS and have found them to be more widespread than previously thought.
HOW DO PFAS CYCLE THROUGH THE ENVIRONMENT?
A lot has yet to be learned about even the more commonly encountered of the PFAS compounds. Despite their size, these compounds have relatively high water solubility and are surprisingly mobile in the environment, especially in groundwater.
PFAS are resistant to treatment and degradation, and typically go through water and wastewater treatment plants untouched and end up in discharges to surface water and to the land. Since they persist and go largely untreated, they often cycle through the environment and create widespread impact as shown on the graphic from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The concern for human health is due to the PFAS compounds tendency to have long residency time in the human body, which is known as bioaccumulation. This combined with their largely unknown human health toxicity, means that we do not currently understand how big of a health concern this is at the moment. The lack of toxicity studies along with the fact that it is being found everywhere, poses a significant concern for regulators in charge of human health and the environment.
Currently, regulators are trying to establish criteria for PFAS compounds while at the same time scientist are trying to establish the different compound’s toxicities. The situation is very fluid and there will be a lot of changes to the science and regulations.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THERE MAY BE PFAS CONTAMINATION?
PFAS were used in a variety of industries. There may be PFAS contamination in the groundwater or soil at manufacturing sites of the following products:
- Textiles and leather with coatings to repeal water, oil and stains
- Paper products with surface coatings to repel grease and moisture
- Metal plating to prevent corrosion, suppress fume and reduce wear
- Wire manufacturing through the coating and insultation processes
- Industrial surfactants with plastics, mold release coatings and flame retardants
- Photolithography for anti-reflective coatings and wetting agents
- Along with ski waxes, cookware, fabric softeners, pesticides, windshield wipers, medical products, personal care products and dental floss
Or businesses that use Class B firefighting foams, such as:
- Military bases
To date, the majority of the PFAS cleanup sites have been at large chemical manufacturing plants and military properties where aqueous firefighting foams (AFFF) have been used.
How Do You Get Exposed to PFAS?
Exposure to PFAS happens through contact with areas such as drinking water wells and public water systems. It is more prominent in sites near areas that involve PFAS production, disposal, and utilization.
PFAS can also be contacted through consumer products, groundwater receiving run-off from areas that concern usage of firefighting foam, and fish from contaminated bodies of water.
Its Risks to Unborn Babies and Young Children
Pregnant women are at risk of their unborn children getting exposed to chemicals through the umbilical cord during pregnancy. Other means of exposure would include breast milk or by using formula made with water that has been exposed to PFAS.
Young children tend to have a higher risk of exposure from cleaning products and carpets, considering their age bracket’s time spent on the floor in their early stages. Older children may also be exposed to water and food in general.
How Common Is It For People To Have PFAS In Their Blood?
Research studies display that exposure to PFAS has been widespread and concerning. People in the United States and industrialized countries have considerably measurable amounts of the chemical in their blood.
Researchers say that it is highly unlikely that a person possesses a “zero” level of PFAS in their system, even if they did not directly drink contaminated water or partake in food that has been exposed to it.
In the United States, the manufacturers of PFAS-related items have been regulated to phase out their production back in 2002. It also included their production of PFOA in the year 2013. However, this does not mean that PFAS manufacturing has been stopped completely. There are still some areas that manufacture the substance in smaller amounts in the country.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the levels of PFOS and PFOA in the system of the general public have decreased steadily. The ongoing decrease was a result of phasing out the production.
However, the risks are still apparent considering that PFAS remains in the human physiology and environment for years even after first exposure.
Health Risks Correlated to PFAS Exposure
Found in blood at much lower levels in breast milk, urine, and in umbilical cord blood, PFAS tend to stay in overtime in the human body. And the following complications are said to be correlated with the prolonged exposure of this substance: risks of developmental effects in infants, infertility, interference with natural hormones, effects on the immune system, and risks of cancer.
Depending on multiple factors, the adverse health effects rely on the amount, the period of exposure, and the concentration of the PFAS being ingested/exposed to the individual or people.
Moreover, the toxicity and health effects of PFAS is currently still not well understood and definite. Moreover, there are still a lot of ongoing studies being performed by professionals to gain more understanding. However, the biggest concerns lean towards pregnant women and children.
What Should I Do If I’m Concerned About My Risk to PFAS?
Individuals that are suspecting or are concerned with their exposure to large levels of PFAS should seek medical attention from a doctor or to a family healthcare provider. The same attention should be given to people who are showing symptoms related to such exposure.
For pregnant women, sensitive prenatal care is advised to prevent any mishaps in their pregnancy. Inform your obstetrician ahead of time about your condition so additional caution can be applied to your situation.
What Steps Should I Take If I Detected PFAS In My Water?
The Rhode Island Department of Health has recommended its people to avoid boiling their water. Doing this will prevent the concentration of these chemicals. Aside from that, they have advised using bottled water since it has undergone testing and treatment against these chemicals.
If you have a garden and are concerned about the PFAS levels in your soil, you should water your seedlings and plants using a cleaner water source. Additionally, you should modify your gardening soil with sanitary compost.
Moreover, you can also increase the organic content in your soil to prevent PFAS contamination. Once you harvest your produce, you should also make sure to wash it thoroughly in clean water before eating or processing.
If you’re worried about PFAS, there is one solution that can help you eradicate your worries about it. Investing in a whole house water filter can do wonders for your drinking water at home. See more here https://www.aquaoxwaterfilters.com/whole-house-water-filter/.
HOW ARE PFAS REMEDIATED?
It’s very difficult to remediate PFAS. PFAS compounds are very resistant to biological, chemical and heat degradation; therefore, many of the remediation techniques that are used for petroleum and chlorinated solvent sites are largely ineffective on PFAS. Since they cannot be easily degraded, they need to be removed.
Most remediation technologies to date have focused on pumping water from the ground and treating it through either reverse osmosis systems or filtration (carbon or ionic) media. However, this simply concentrates PFAS onto a different media that now needs disposal. Soil impacts are typically excavated and disposed of at off-site disposal facilities. As this issue comes to light, more disposal facilities may reject these waste streams.
Currently, there is a lot of on-going research on innovative methods to either remove or stabilize PFAS in the ground to decrease its mobility or to destroy it with thermal or chemical methods. These technologies are a long way from being proven and time tested. Like everything with PFAS this an ever-changing playing field.
HOW ARE PFAS REGULATED?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has yet to define PFAS as a hazardous substance; therefore, it is not yet subject to all of the CERCLA regulations. This lack of hazardous substance designation also means that there is somewhat of a grey area for whether PFAS should be considered a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) during real estate due diligence process. Buyers should be cautious when doing Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and should consider State designations and the most recent US EPA updates.
PFAS aren’t widely regulated yet in the United States on a Federal level. Some states like Michigan, Wisconsin and New Jersey have gotten out in front of the US EPA and have established state regulatory limits for a small number of the more commonly used compounds. At this moment, PFAS regulation is primarily state specific, so it’s important know what a state’s status is on PFAS regulations.
In late 2019, the US EPA established a PFAS Action Plan to study and formulate regulations ranging from adding PFAS to Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) toxic chemical list to recommendations for addressing contaminated groundwater and preliminary drinking water regulations for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). A more thorough examination of the Federal and State regulations can be found on the Interstates Technology Regulatory Counsel (ITRC) Basis of Regulations website.
HOW CAN YOU TEST FOR PFAS IN DRINKING WATER?
For now, the US EPA has established a drinking water Health Advisory Limit for just two out of nearly 5,000 PFAS compounds but is deep into a long regulatory process of establishing enforceable limits. Some states have expanded on this and are regulating additional PFAS compounds.
Testing for PFAS is a complicated proposition because:
- The testing methods are still evolving (currently focused mainly on drinking water)
- Laboratories are still investing in equipment and training to perform the testing
- The detection limits established so far are very low (70 parts in a trillion parts or ppt)
- These compounds can be found in a lot of background sources in both the field sampling equipment and the laboratory equipment (high potential for false positives)
- Tests currently only look for a small number of the more common compounds
The most important thing to establish if a regulator asks you to sample for PFAS is which compounds are required and at what detection levels. Then discuss with your laboratory if they can detect those same compounds at those same low levels. It is very important to vet your lab’s experience with analyzing for this emerging contaminant. You will also want to be sure that your samplers have taken precautions to limit the potential for contamination of the samples from everyday products (plastics, coatings, sunscreens, stain proof fabrics).
WHAT IS MICHIGAN DOING ABOUT PFAS?
Michigan is one of the pioneering states in the race to test drinking water supplies for PFAS. They sampled over a thousand community water supply wells and non-community water supply wells and found that the drinking water had low levels of PFAS chemicals. They’ve also tested wastewater from treatment plants and streams.
As already mentioned, other states that are working hard to develop the regulations are Wisconsin and Minnesota.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT GOING FORWARD?
In a lot of ways PFAS are the perfect storm of an emerging contaminant. They have widespread use, they are not easily treated, they persist in the environment, they bioaccumulate and they are thought to have health effects down in the low parts per trillion (ppt) levels.
The science and the regulations are evolving as we speak, and much will change in the next couple of years. If you are faced with the proposition of sampling your site for PFAS, take a deep breath and do not be in a rush to charge forward. Take time to understand what you are being asked to do and what are the applicable standards to which you will be held. What applies today may be very different from what applies tomorrow.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Present Human and Environmental Health Risks
The endocrine system is a network of glands and organs that produce, store, and secrete hormones. When functioning normally, the endocrine system works with other systems to regulate your body’s healthy development and function throughout life.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are compounds, either natural or synthetic, that can interfere with hormone function. They are substances in the environment (air, soil, or water supply), food sources, personal care products, and manufactured products that interfere with the normal function of your body’s endocrine system. Since EDCs come from many different sources, people are exposed in several ways, including the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. EDCs also can enter the body through the skin. As the endocrine system regulates a variety of physiological functions, including reproduction, development, metabolism, and brain function, EDCs present serious human and environmental health risks.
More than 1,800 chemicals have been identified by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as EDCs that can interfere with the estrogen, androgen, and/or thyroid pathways in the endocrine system. Compounds known to disrupt endocrine function include plant-derived phytoestrogens, industrial chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), plasticizers including phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), and agricultural pesticides. These compounds can be found in objects we encounter every day, such as food, plastic bottles, cosmetics, flame retardants, and more.
As EDCs can enter the food chain through a variety of routes, ingestion is the primary way in which humans are exposed to EDCs, whereas inhalation and direct contact also occur, but are less common. EDCs can disrupt endocrine function in a variety of ways, such as interfering with synthesis, transport, metabolism, and/or receptor binding of hormones, resulting in a variety of adverse effects. The best characterized mechanism by which EDCs exert cellular effects is through acting at nuclear receptors such as estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormone receptors.
EDCs have been linked to reproductive issues in both men and women, such as decreased sperm counts and reduced sperm motility in men and decreased fertility, adverse birth outcomes, and precocious or delayed puberty in women. EDCs with estrogenic activity disrupt normal estrogen signaling mediated by estrogen receptors (ERs). BPA, which is associated with endometriosis, decreased fertilization, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women, mimics the natural ER ligand 17β-estradiol (E2) and has been shown to bind ERα and ERβ, as well as estrogen-related receptor γ (ERRγ), the androgen receptor (AR), progesterone receptors, and thyroid hormone receptors. The organochlorine pesticides methoxychlor and DDT, which are considered persistent organic pollutants, also exert estrogenic activity through binding to ERα and ERβ. Despite being banned from use in the 1970s, DDT is still present in the environment and continues to be of concern due to its adverse effects on the female reproductive tract. Methoxychlor and DDT, as well as the herbicide linuron and fungicide hexaconazole, have also been shown to inhibit the androgen receptor (AR), which has roles in spermatogenesis in men and the development and maintenance of the reproductive, cardiovascular, and immune systems, among others.
EDCs can also affect estrogen- and androgen-mediated signaling by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Activated AhR can inhibit estrogen- and androgen-mediated signaling through ERs and ARs by targeting hormone-bound receptors for degradation or upregulate signaling in the absence of these hormones. Additionally, AhR activation stimulates production of enzymes that metabolize E2, thereby exerting anti-estrogenic effects. Dioxins, various organochlorine pesticides, phthalates, and certain fungicides have all been shown to activate the AhR.
Thyroid hormones regulate physiological processes including metabolism, cardiac function, and development of the brain. EDCs can interfere with normal thyroid function in a variety of ways, including disruption of thyroid hormone synthesis, bioavailability, transportation, and metabolism. Pesticides such as DDT, chlorpyrifos, and methoxychlor can disrupt thyroid signaling and neurodevelopment, most likely through perturbation of thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism. Some EDCs, however, can act through binding to thyroid hormone receptors. Examples include PCBs, BPA, and several pyrethroid insecticides. The flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), which is a derivative of BPA, has been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone-dependent metamorphosis in amphibians by acting as an antagonist at thyroid hormone receptors.
The endocrine system also regulates energy metabolism and homeostasis, which can be disrupted by EDCs. Certain EDCs termed “obesogens” have been shown to alter metabolism in a way that promotes lipid storage. For example, phthalate metabolites in urine have been associated with increased waist circumference and body mass index in humans. One possible mechanism of action for obesogens is through peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), which act as sensors for dietary lipids and their metabolites. PPARα and PPARβ/δ activate fatty acid oxidation pathways, whereas PPARγ regulates adipogenesis and glucose homeostasis. Several obesogens have been shown to activate PPARγ and/or heterodimers of PPARγ and retinoic acid receptors (RXRs). Examples include BPA, phthalates, the fungicide triflumizole, and the antifouling agent tributyltin. Tributyltin and certain phthalates can also activate PPARα. Through their effects on PPARs, tributyltin and triflumizole have both been shown to promote adipogenesis.
Humans are not the only species to be affected by EDCs in the environment. EDCs can contaminate water sources in a variety of ways, such as the release of pharmaceuticals into sewage or industrial and livestock activities, and cause adverse effects in many wildlife species. In 1980, for example, a chemical spill led to the contamination of Lake Apopka in Florida with toxic chemicals, including the organochlorine pesticide dicofol. This resulted in reproductive effects, genital abnormalities, and severe population decline in local alligators.
Fish are some of the first animals exposed to EDCs in environmental water sources, making them useful as indicators of aquatic contamination. Environmental exposure to EDCs with estrogenic activity leads to increased production of vitellogenin in fish species. Vitellogenin is a yolk precursor protein whose expression is induced by estrogen. As such, its levels in male fish are typically very low. Increased levels of vitellogenin in male fish can therefore serve as a biomarker for environmental exposure to estrogenic compounds.
Due to the ability of certain EDCs to accumulate in fatty tissues, environmental exposure and contamination of wildlife and livestock can lead to eventual human exposure via the food chain. In the early 1970s, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) were accidentally added to livestock feed distributed throughout the state of Michigan. PBBs were used as flame retardants before US production ended in 1979 and are persistent organic pollutants with the ability to accumulate and persist in lipid-rich tissues. As a result of this incident, thousands of Michigan residents were exposed to PBBs through the consumption of contaminated meat, eggs, and dairy products. Individuals who were exposed in this incident and had higher PBB levels exhibited adverse effects including increased chance of miscarriage in women, delayed puberty in boys, and earlier menarche in girls. Increased PBB levels among Michigan residents have also been associated with thyroid dysfunction and breast cancer, among other adverse effects. This incident has had multigenerational effects, as PBBs can be transferred to children via the placenta or through breastfeeding.
Diagnosis and Prevention
High EDC exposures during fetal development and childhood can have long-lasting health effects since there are periods where hormones regulate the formation and maturation of organs. Early-life exposures have been linked to developmental abnormalities and may increase the risk for a variety of diseases later-in-life. Importantly, various EDCs have been found to cross the placenta and become concentrated in the fetus’ circulation. Other EDCs can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk.
Although evidence linking EDCs to adverse health outcomes continues to grow, the cause-and-effect relationship is not yet fully understood. Generally, chronic high exposures pose the highest risk, however, a developing fetus or infant is more vulnerable to lower exposures.
Additionally, a person’s genetic predisposition to specific health conditions, as well as additional environmental risk factors can modify how a person is affected by EDCs. Taking Precautions
Even if some health effects are not fully proven, taking precautions is wise. Become familiar with EDCs to which you and your family may be exposed. Try to avoid unnecessary, preventable exposure to EDC-containing consumer products. The following is a list of precautionary steps that one can take to minimize EDC exposures. These precautions are especially important if you are pregnant or planning a family.
Food and Water
- Consult local guides regarding which sport fish are safe to consume.
- Trim fat from meat and the skin from fish and cook using a rack to allow fat to drain.
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them.
- Don’t microwave plastic food containers or use them for storing hot liquids.
- Avoid plastic containers designated #3, #6, and #7.
- Reduce consumption of canned and processed foods.
- Use glass, porcelain, or stainless-steel containers, when possible, especially for hot food and drinks.
- Prepare more meals at home and emphasize fresh ingredients.
- Consider using a water filter.
- If possible, purchase organic produce, meat, and dairy products.
- Replace older non-stick pans with newer ceramic-coated pans.
- Eat a diversified diet with plenty of variety.
Exercise and Activity
- Check air quality in your area [https://airnow.gov].
- Avoid outdoor exercise when pollution levels are high.
- Avoid exercise near high traffic areas. Choose routes away from busy roads and vehicles
- Read labels and avoid products containing phthalates.
- Choose products labeled “Phthalate-Free”, “BPA-Free”, and “Paraben-Free”.
- Avoid fragrances and opt for cosmetics labeled “no synthetic fragrance”, “scented only with essential oils”.
- Wash your hands often, especially before preparing and eating food.
- Minimize handling of receipts and thermal paper.
Around the Home
- For those with a submersible pump in their well who notice an oily film or fuel odor in their well water, check to see if the pump has failed and, if so, replace it. Contact your local Department of Public Health for information on how to clean the well.
- Replace and discard safely old fluorescent bulbs and deteriorating construction materials from older buildings.
- Minimize burning wood or trash.
- Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment instead of gas-powered alternatives.
- Forbid smoking indoors and advocate for measures to make public spaces tobacco-free.
- Clean your floors regularly and remove dust from your home.
- Plant trees, which filter out airborne gases and particulate matter.
- Avoid hand-me-down plastic toys.
- Use infant formula bottles and toys that are labeled “BPA-Free”.
- Choose transportation options and transit routes that limit time sitting in traffic.
- Encourage your child’s school to reduce school bus emissions, including reducing idling.
Sources of Common EDCs
Example of Common EDC Sources:
- Industrial chemicals and pesticides can leach into soil and groundwater, and make their way into the food chain by building up in fish, animals, and people.
- Non-organic produce can have pesticide residues
- Some consumer products contain EDCs or are packaged in containers which can leach EDCs, such as household chemicals, fabrics treated with flame retardants, cosmetics, lotions, products with fragrance, and anti-bacterial soaps
- Processed foods can accumulate traces of EDCs that leach out of materials used in manufacturing, processing, transportation, and storage
- Soy-based products contain phytoestrogens, which are chemicals produced by plants that mimic estrogen
- Household dust can contain EDCs such as lead, flame retardants, and PCBs from weathering construction material or furniture
|Common EDCs||Used In|
|DDT, Chlorpyrifos, Atrazine, 2, 4-D, Glyphosate||Pesticides|
|Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium||Children’s Products|
|Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxins||Industrial Solvents or Lubricants and their Byproducts|
|Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates, Phenol||Plastics and Food Storage Materials|
|Brominated Flame Retardants, PCBs||Electronics and Building Materials|
|Phthalates, Parabens, UV Filters||Personal Care Products, Medical Tubing, Sunscreen|
|Triclosan||Anti-Bacterial Soaps, Colgate Total|
|Perfluorochemicals||Textiles, Clothing, Non-Stick Food Wrappers, Microwave Popcorn Bags, Old Teflon Cookware|
Symptoms and Risk Factors
More research is needed, but we know EDCs affect:
Response to psychological stress
- Neurological and behavioral changes
- Reduced ability to handle stress
- Some EDCs have been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Some industrial chemicals and flame retardants can interfere with thyroid function
- Some classes of EDCs (DDT, BPA, phthalates, PCBs, others) can affect reproductive health by mimicking or blocking the effects of male and female sex hormones
Growth and development
- High exposures to EDCs during gestation can lead to low-birth weight
- Altered development
- Disrupted sexual development
- Weakened immune system
- Exposure to estrogen or androgen mimicking EDCs can promote breast and prostate cancer growth and/or interfere with hormonal cancer therapy
- Prenatal exposure to some EDCs may after mammary gland development and increase breast cancer risk later-in-life
9 Ways to Avoid Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
You may remember learning in biology class that our bodies are run by a network of hormones and glands that regulate everything we do. Most often, we think about this system—the endocrine system—in the context of puberty, but it actually plays a starring role in all phases of development, metabolism, and behavior.
Here’s the bad news: Synthetic chemicals in products like plastics and fragrances can mimic hormones and interfere with or disrupt the delicate endocrine dance. We’re exposed to these chemicals daily, and we’re especially vulnerable to them during phases of accelerated development—in utero and throughout childhood.
“We have very tight windows of when, say, our brain and liver are made,” explains Kristi Pullen Fedinick, an NRDC staff scientist. “When a hormone-disrupting chemical gets in the way during these windows, it can change the ways these processes happen. The change is often irreversible.”
Yes, it sounds scary, but we aren’t without recourse: While NRDC works to get better safeguards in place, there are ways you can try to steer clear of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. Here’s how.
1. Wash your hands
If you follow just one piece of advice from this list, make it this small, easy thing: Wash your hands frequently (avoiding fragranced and antibacterial soaps), and always before eating. You’ll rinse a substantial amount of chemical residue down the drain.
2. Dust and vacuum often
Even though they’re linked to hormone disruption (and cancer, too), flame retardant chemicals are used in many common household products. Research shows that these chemicals escape from electronics, couches, and baby products and collect in your household dust.
Most families don’t have the budget to replace all these items with flame-retardant-free versions, but we can all afford to keep our house clean by dusting with a damp cloth and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which traps small particles of dust instead of blowing them around the house. You’ll also reduce your exposure to other chemicals that can accumulate in your home, like lead (in older buildings), phthalates, and fluorinated chemicals
3. Turn up your nose at fragrances
The word fragrance on a label signifies a mix of potentially hundreds of ingredients, and the exact formulas of most companies claim are trade secrets. But we do know that phthalates, one class of chemicals typically found in fragrance, can disrupt hormones. Fortunately, fragrance isn’t necessary for a product to function well or be effective. Choose fragrance-free creams, cleaning products, and laundry detergents. And check ingredient labels to find out where else fragrance lurks; it can show up in unexpected places, such as diapers or garbage bags.
For safer ways of freshening your indoor air, open windows, use fans, and empty stinky trash cans and litter boxes instead of trying to cover them up. You can also turn to natural odor-busters like fresh flowers on the kitchen counter, citrus peels in the garbage disposal, or an open box of baking soda in the fridge.
4. Think twice about plastics
We’re surrounded by plastic. It’s wrapping our food, bottling our conditioner, encasing our phone. And some plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. One commonly used shatterproof plastic (PC #7) can contain bisphenol-A, commonly called BPA, and flexible vinyl (PVC #3) contains phthalates. These chemicals are known EDCs. The science varies on how much of a risk these combined exposures pose in everyday life, but recent research shows even very low-dose exposures can be significant.
You can’t eliminate all plastic, but you can take some easy steps to reduce your plastic use. Swap plastic food storage containers with glass or stainless steel; if you do keep plastic ones, don’t use them to store fatty foods, and never microwave them. Replace plastic baggies with reusable lunch bags, and plastic cling wrap with beeswax-coated cloth. Choose hard wood blocks and cotton baby dolls over plastic ones. In short, anytime you’re in the market for something plastic, research whether safer alternatives exist.
5. Say “no can do” to cans
Canned foods can make meal prep a breeze, but those cans are likely lined with BPA to keep them from corroding. (Even cans labeled “BPA-free” may use a similar chemical that hasn’t been proved any safer, according to a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.) Choosing fresh, frozen, or dried foods (like beans) that aren’t packaged in cans—is a smart preventive measure. Aseptic “brick” cartons or glass packaging are both better than cans.
6. Watch what you eat
Certain pesticides have been linked to hormone disruption. Eat organic food as much as you can afford to. If your food budget is tight, choose conventionally grown foods known to have the least amount of pesticide residue. As a general rule of thumb, try to eat food that is as close to whole as possible—a whole roasted chicken instead of processed chicken nuggets, for example. When you can, avoid food packaging. And consider how you prepare food, as well. EDCs can hide in nonstick pots and pans, so cook in stainless steel or cast iron instead.
7. Filter your tap water
Drinking tap water out of a glass will reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals in cans and plastic bottles. But tap water can contain a bevy of its own potential hormone disruptors, including residue from birth control pills, according to NRDC’s Drinking Water Project. Running water from the tap through an NSF-certified water filter can, when properly installed and maintained, decrease the level of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
8. Rethink kids’ cosmetics
Children don’t need cosmetics, yet there’s a glut of kid-related lotions and potions, bubbles and polishes, glosses and glitters on the market. These can contain a number of EDCs (not to mention chemicals linked to cancer, asthma, and skin irritation) that make them smell good, glide on smoothly, and be otherwise irresistible to kids. Just say no, and leave that perfect baby skin be.
For lotions, sunscreens, and soap, check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. In general, the fewer products you use, with the least amount of ingredients, the better.
9. Clean smarter
While “cleaning,” many of us actually introduce indoor air pollutants into our homes in the form of harsh chemical products. It’s difficult (and often impossible) to know what chemicals any given cleaning product contains because companies aren’t required to list the ingredients on the label.
To encourage transparency and safer products, buy from companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients and look for the Safer Choice label. You can also easily make your own cleaners from safe household staples like vinegar and baking soda.
10. Speak out
Tell companies, agencies, and policy makers that we need systems in place to make sure that toxic chemicals like EDCs, phthalates, and fluorinated chemicals stay out of our food, water, or homes in the first place.
enviroforensics.com, “What are PFAS compounds and how can we test for them?” By Brad Lewis; aquaoxwaterfilters.com, “What is PFAS? Everything You Need To Know About It.” By Alexis Aislin Basilla; caymanchem.com, “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Present Human and Environmental Health Risks.”; nrdc.org, “9 Ways to Avoid Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals.” By Alexandra Zissu;
What Is Wrong With Our Country?