PFAS appear in stain- and water-resistant children’s products, including those labeled non-toxic | Health
Even if stain- or water-resistant children’s clothing is advertised as “green” or “non-toxic,” it may still contain PFAS, a group of manufactured “eternal chemicals” that have been linked to a wide range health problems in children.
In a new study, colleagues and I tested more than 90 water- and stain-resistant children’s items that are readily available in stores and online.
The results were revealing. We have found PFAS in school uniforms, pillows, upholstered furniture, and several other items that are often next to children’s skin and near their noses and mouths. None of the labels for these products warned that toxic manufactured chemicals were present. In fact, many of them were advertised as non-toxic or green.
What’s wrong with PFAS?
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of over 9,000 chemicals that contain a carbon-fluorine bond and are used for their persistent characteristics, such as their ability to resist water, heat and the fat.
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These chemicals are all around us – they’re used in nonstick cookware, greaseproof food packaging, water-resistant clothing, plastic touchscreens and moldings, and fire-fighting foams. and industrial processes. They get into water, soil, dust and the air people breathe, and they can bioaccumulate in animals.
They have also been found in the blood of over 98% of Americans tested and in the most remote regions of the Earth. The relatively few PFASs that have been studied for their impact on humans have been shown to be associated with a wide range of health problems, such as cancers, increased cholesterol, interference with natural hormones and reduced vaccine response in children.
Here are some examples of other products that may contain PFAS. City of Riverside, California
Children’s exposure to PFAS is of particular concern because their small size, developing bodies, and hormonal and physiological changes may make them more susceptible to the effects of PFAS. A review of children’s PFAS exposure and health effects found evidence of associations between blood PFAS levels and changes in the age at which children begin menstruating; other findings included changes in kidney function and immune responses, as well as dyslipidemia, an imbalance of fats in the blood, which can put children at risk for cardiovascular disease.
What we found in children’s products
Previous studies have found PFAS in children’s clothing, some of which are advertised as “functional” fabrics with characteristics such as water resistance. We sought to test whether information on the labels of children’s products, particularly products advertised as stain or water resistant, would predict the presence of PFAS.
We also wanted to know if products advertised or certified as “green” or “non-toxic” indicated the absence of PFAS.
We looked at 93 products used by children or teens, broken down into three broad product types: clothing, bedding, and furnishings. Early testing showed that 54 of these products had measurable levels of total fluoride, indicating the presence of PFAS. Our study partners at Alpha Analytical then tested these products for 36 individual PFASs.
PFAS appears in stain-resistant carpet and upholstery textiles. FatCamera via Getty Images
We found that products advertised as water and stain resistant were more likely than other products to have detectable levels of total fluoride and higher levels of PFAS, although not all included PFAS. None of the other products had detectable levels of the PFAS chemicals we tested, although some did have measurable levels of total fluoride.
Water- or stain-resistant products advertised as “green” or “non-toxic” had similar detections of PFAS and total fluorine levels to water- or stain-resistant products without any green assurance.
The product categories that had the highest PFAS measurements were clothing, including school uniforms; pillow protectors and mattress protectors; and upholstery of children’s furniture.
Although our study did not measure exposure, it is possible that children in contact with these products may be exposed to PFAS compounds, many of which we did not measure, such as volatile PFAS that can be inhaled. . Studies have shown that with wear and washing, PFAS can leach out of durable or functional textiles, leading to increased potential for exposure and environmental contamination.
What can we do there?
Although more research is needed to quantify exposures to PFAS from children’s clothing and other products, it is worth asking why these chemicals are added to these products in the first place. The truth is, kids are messy, and buying white clothes or using lightweight carpeting in high-traffic rooms just isn’t practical.
The Environmental Protection Agency has considered federal rules to limit the use of PFAS and possibly declare them as hazardous substances. It’s a complicated debate with implications for the companies that make these chemicals and the products that contain them, and even for landfills and sewage treatment plants.
Several states are not waiting. California recently passed legislation that will phase out PFAS in children’s products. California, Maine, Vermont and Washington have banned PFAS in carpets and rugs. Maine has gone further and will phase out PFAS from consumer products sold in the state by 2023. Several other states are considering limiting or banning some or all PFAS in different uses, including fire-fighting foams , drinking water, food packaging and ski wax.
As someone who buys used clothing, which does not come with tags, for my children, I am concerned about exposure to PFAS. As our study has shown, it is difficult to know when an article contains PFAS.
“Green” product certifiers could help by ensuring that they include PFAS in their criteria. The precautionary principle would suggest avoiding non-critical uses of PFAS in general.
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Kathryn Rodgers was supported by grants from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and charitable donations to the Silent Spring Institute. She was a scientist at the Silent Spring Institute from 2012 to 2021.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
Claire McCarthy of Harvard Health Publications offers six practical steps to boost your child’s immune system:
6 practical steps to boost your child’s immune system
Feed them a healthy diet
By “healthy”, I mean a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Provide five servings a day, and these servings should take up half of each meal plate.
A healthy diet also contains whole grains, lean protein, dairy or another source of calcium, and healthy fats, such as vegetable oils.
Foods to ideally avoid or at least limit are processed foods, foods with added sugar, and foods with saturated fats.
If you have a child who refuses vegetables or has a restricted diet, a multivitamin with iron may be helpful. ask your doctor if vitamins or supplements are a good idea for your child.
Make sure children get enough sleep
The amount of sleep a child needs varies by age (from 12-16 hours a day for infants to 8-10 hours for teenagers) and also from child to child (some just need more than others).
You can encourage healthy sleep by limiting screens. Devices should really be turned off an hour or two before bedtime and preferably not in the bedroom at night – and on a regular schedule.
Exercise keeps us healthy and reduces the risk of getting sick. It is recommended that children be active for at least one hour a day.
“Active” doesn’t necessarily mean playing sports or going to the gym; it can be playing in the playground or taking a walk.
To manage stress
Stress makes us less healthy and more prone to infections. Make sure kids have free time to play and access activities and people that make them happy (or whatever version the pandemic allows).
Spend time together as a family and create opportunities for your children to talk about anything that might be worrying them.
Stay up to date on vaccines
Check with your doctor to find out if your child is up to date with their vaccinations. The flu vaccine is recommended annually for anyone 6 months of age or older.
Remember the simple precautions
All family members can take simple precautions to stay healthy. Wash your hands. Cover your cough and sneeze with your elbow. Stay away from sick people as much as possible.
Dr. Claire McCarthy is assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing.