Toxic PFAS Chemicals Common in Indoor Spaces: Study

The results of a new study have revealed that toxic PFAS “forever chemicals”* are common in U.S. indoor spaces and that switching to “healthier” furnishings could reduce human exposure to risky PFAS chemicals.

pfas study

Study overview

Researchers analyzed building dust in classrooms and common campus spaces for the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals.  The researchers wanted to expand on an earlier investigation that looked at 15 types of PFAS in buildings. It is challenging to measure PFAS chemicals in products because the majority of the thousands of PFAS chemicals are unknown or cannot be measured with traditional lab techniques. So instead, the scientists used organic fluorine to measure PFAS because organic fluorine is found in all PFAS. The research team compared 12 indoor spaces with healthier carpet and furniture to 12 with conventional furnishings.

The research revealed PFAS concentrations in dust were 66% lower in the 12 rooms with healthier materials. Organic fluorine levels were also lower in the healthier spaces.  While the 15 types of PFAS that researchers could measure in the lab were significantly correlated with organic fluorine levels, they only accounted for up to 9% of it. That suggests many unidentified PFAS are present in the dust.  This fact is important in the home, in work spaces and in schools/universities.

Solutions

The researchers emphasized the importance of manufacturers eliminating unnecessary chemicals and making healthier furnishings and carpet. They said manufacturers should also provide chemical lists for these “healthier” materials that are verified by an outside source.

* PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. PFAS chemicals have been mass produced since the 1950s, and used in products such as firefighting foams, nonstick pans and personal care items. They are now ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in many consumer and industrial products including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans.  PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”.  PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body.  PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, and in some cases, science simply cannot detect them in blood. PFAS chemicals have been detected in the blood of more than 98% of Americans.


Journal reference:  Anna S. Young, Heidi M. Pickard, Elsie M. Sunderland & Joseph G. Allen, Organic Fluorine as an Indicator of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Dust from Buildings with Healthier versus Conventional Materials, Environmental Science & Technology Journal, November 4, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c05198  Summary