Toxic PFAS are everywhere — here’s how to avoid them

No matter where you go, there they are.

“They” are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a wide-ranging class of chemicals that repel water, oil or heat that are used in food packaging, nonstick cookware, fire extinguishers, waterproof fabrics, paints, waxes, dental floss and more.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a nationwide action plan to study PFAS and devise limits on two such chemicals found in drinking water, following several epidemiologic studies linking them to cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, decreased fertility and low birth weight.

However, most of the some 4,700 PFAS chemicals in use have yet to be studied at all for long-term health effects, says Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute.

In January, Schaider’s research team published findings that showed elevated levels of PFAS in the blood from using Oral-B Glide dental flosses. (Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Glide products, told The Post at the time, “The safety of the people who use our products is our No. 1 priority. Our dental floss undergoes thorough safety testing, and we stand by the safety of all our products.”) In 2017, the researchers tested packaging from 27 US-based fast food chains and found nearly half of all paper wrappers contained markers for PFAS.

“These [daily] exposures can add up,” Schaider, an expert in PFAS, tells The Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 98 percent of Americans have trace amounts of PFAS in their bodies, which may take anywhere from three days to nine years to metabolize. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to determine levels of exposure.

“You’d need to work with New York, the CDC and a few other labs that have that capability to test [on humans],” Brad Hutton, a deputy commissioner at the New York state Department of Health, tells The Post. He says the DOH has been working “aggressively” to pinpoint heavily contaminated communities, such as Newburgh, NY, where the groundwater was contaminated by large amounts of fire-fighting foam runoff from a nearby National Guard base.

To reduce PFAS exposure, the Silent Spring Institute recommends replacing stain-resistant carpets and upholstery; swapping Teflon and other PFAS-based nonstick cookware with cast iron, glass or enamel; using a carbon water filter, such as Aquasana’s countertop filter (about $80); and avoiding the grease-proof packaging commonly used in fast food containers, pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags. They also warn that infants and children, with their developing immune systems, may be especially at risk.

“We’ve reached the point where we should have a national standard,” says Hutton.

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