nonstick pan
PFAS are oil- and water-resistant, so they’re used in non-stick cookware, greaseproof wrappers and containers (like fast food packaging), stain resistance formulae and many other items. Image Credit: Shutterstock

We know that forever chemicals or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are in our environment. But did you know they’ve also made their way into our bodies?

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn about the ‘ominous’ effect of these chemicals on our health, and how we can lower exposure.

A July 2023 study by the US Geological Survey found that PFAS are present in about 45 per cent of the US’s water supply. And a report by the UK-based website Environment Analyst found that PFAS are present in the blood of 98 per cent of the US population.

Globally, too, it’s a growing problem. PFAS compounds can be found everywhere – these long chain molecules of carbon and fluorine are oil- and water-resistant. So, they’re used in non-stick cookware, greaseproof wrappers and containers (like fast food packaging), stain resistance formulae, and in lubrication and firefighting applications. They’re even responsible for waterproofing your mascara. Another huge source is pollution from chemical plants – groundwater becomes contaminated, and when people ingest food and water, the chemicals enter the body.

But just how dangerous are PFAS? Although the health implications of these chemicals aren’t fully understood, the chemicals have been associated with elevated cholesterol levels, thyroid disease, liver and kidney damage and effects on fertility and low birth weight, according to the European Food Safety Authority.

Here are some steps we can take to limit our exposure to PFAS:

1. Drink filtered water

The US government’s Environmental Protection Agency reports that additional safety measures like ion-exchange filters, granular active carbon filters and reverse-osmosis filters can all remove PFAS from drinking water. Since it’s unlikely that PFAS can be absorbed through the skin, the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states that it’s alright to bathe without filtering the water – it shouldn’t increase your exposure.

2. Eat fish from the ocean

Fish that are caught in the ocean don’t tend to be contaminated with PFAS, but those caught in rivers and lakes in places like the US, often are. According to the CDC, the fat in wild fish can be a source of PFAS if they have been swimming in contaminated water.

3. Check ingredient labels on cosmetics

With many of the things we buy, we can’t tell if the products are contaminated with PFAS. For instance, unless you already know about it, you wouldn’t be able to tell if your burger is wrapped in greaseproof paper made with PFAS. However, cosmetic companies are required to list the ingredients they use, so you can check if they contain common PFAS, like polytetrafluoroethylene, perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane, perfluorononyl dimethicone, perfluorodecalin, and perfluorohexane.

4. Use an air purifier at home

PFAS can stick to dust particles, which enter your body when you breathe in. An air purifier helps to remove dust from the air. You can also wipe surfaces with a wet cloth to remove dust, or use a vacuum cleaner that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Were you aware of the harmful effects of PFAS? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at