PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in a huge variety of settings for their greaseproof properties, are the subject of a new study calling for urgent research into their effects.

These chemicals, which are used in everything from food packaging to carpets, are known to contaminate ecosystems across the globe. Unfortunately, their long-term effects are not as well understood as they should be.

These entirely man-made chemicals have been used since the 1940s, and although some states have now enacted legislation to restrict the use of PFAS, their ability to persist in the environment means the compounds that already exist will continue to contaminate the environment.

PFAs: another widespread risk to health?


The study, which is published in the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, collects the proceedings of a symposium on the subject and issues a call to action on the need for new and better ways to detect and mitigate the effects of PFAS.

Although more evidence is needed of their long-term effects, it is already clear that exposure to high levels can lead to adverse health effects for humans and other species. The study stresses the need for new ways to measure and study exposures to these synthetic chemicals from various sources, including food.

PFAS accumulate in the environment and do not break down on their own. For instance, the compounds can contaminate waterways after leaching from products discarded in landfills,.

“They’re out there, we need to be aware of them, and it’s really hard to eliminate them,” said Keith Vorst, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium and an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State. “We need to work on mitigation strategies, and we need to be monitoring them and better understand the risks they pose.”

Some PFAS are no longer produced in the United States, but Vorst added that more than 5,000 separate compounds qualify under this category, which makes it difficult for regulations to keep up with newly developed chemicals. Similar difficulties attend the regulation of compounds like phthalates and other plasticizers.

Phthalates may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year in the US: shocking new study


Phthalates, common chemicals found in a wide variety of consumer products, may be responsible for as many as 107,000 premature deaths a year among people aged 55-64 in the United States, according to new research in the journal Environmental Pollution.

The research is yet further evidence that phthalates, which have already been attributed a whole host of negative health effects, are serious bad news, and that limiting your exposure to such chemicals should be a priority.

Previous research has already connected phthalates with reproductive problems, such as genital malformations and undescended testes in baby boys and lower sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males. Studies have also linked these chemicals to childhood obesityasthmacardiovascular issues and cancer.

Phthalates are often referred to as ‘everywhere chemicals’ because they are, quite literally, everywhere.
They are added to consumer products such as PVC plumbing, vinyl flooring, rain- and stain-resistant products, medical tubing, garden hoses, and children’s toys to make the plastic more flexible and harder to break.

Other common sources of exposure include the use of phthalates in food packaging, detergents, clothing, furniture and automotive plastics. Phthalates are also added to many personal care items such as shampoos, soaps, hair sprays and cosmetics.


Studies have indicated that exposure to high levels of some PFAS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that the most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, and studies have found limited evidence for links between high levels of certain PFAS and low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption. The authors of the new study are unequivocal, though, in their belief that these compounds need deeper investigation.

The new paper comes out of a virtual symposium held in June of 2020 and organized by the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences. The symposium featured scientists, engineers and regulatory professionals from public, private and academic institutions, all of whom discussed various issues concerning PFAS.

Polymer and Food Protection Consortium researchers Greg Curtzwiler, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Paulo Silva, adjunct assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Vorst in the laboratory to study potential mitigation strategies such as high voltage atmospheric cold plasma to change the chemistry of PFAS.

“We’re looking at continuous monitoring of exposure limits,” Vorst said. “We’re trying to develop threshold limits for packaging and products. We’re also looking at how we can change these chemistries to get them out of the environment, make them less persistent or sequester them.”

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