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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (otherwise known as PFAS or “forever chemicals”) exist in our soil, drinking water, and bodies. They’ve been used in all sorts of materials, from water-resistant jackets to the lining of microwave popcorn bags. These chemicals leach into our air, water, and soil during production or enter our bodies via contaminated food. Like their name suggests, their unique chemical bonds mean that they stick around in our environment and bodies forever with potentially dangerous consequences — especially for children. 

Because of negligent business practices, PFAS pose persistent threats to our health. One recent study suggested that 45% of tap water in the U.S. contains some PFAS. Unfortunately, like most environmental concerns, research shows that Black and Hispanic communities are more likely to be exposed to PFAS, with their water containing more than twice as much of certain types compared to predominantly white neighborhoods. 

The CDC links increased PFAS exposure to changes in cholesterol, liver damage, and an increased risk of certain cancers. For children, who breathe more air and drink more water in relation to their body weight, the consequences can be even more dire. Studies show that, in children specifically, PFAS may:

What Can We Do?

Of course, avoiding PFAS as much as possible limits potential exposure and therefore long-term health impacts. Experts recommend:

However, the burden cannot lie solely on families. Rather, strong action from the federal government is needed to ensure that we prioritize children’s health over polluters’ profits. State legislatures have taken swift action, and have considered nearly 200 bills regarding PFAS legislation and nine states have sued manufacturers.

In addition to state progress, First Focus on Children implores Congress to make sure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the funding and power it needs to keep our air, soil, food, and waterways safe. Recently, EPA introduced a rule that creates a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) that would establish Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for six types of PFAS in drinking water, as well as Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs). These MCLs are legally enforceable and will help states keep our drinking water clean and safe. Additionally the MCLGs, while not legally enforceable, require that municipalities alert the public if PFAS levels are above the required threshold so that parents can be made aware of what’s in their children’s water. 

For more on EPA’s new rule and the impacts of PFAS, see First Focus on Children’s comment to the EPA