Known as forever chemicals, nearly indestructible, toxic perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) persist in the environment and our bodies. They are in our water. They are in our crops. They are in our livestock. They lurk in the blood of nearly every American, including the unborn. And they accumulate with each exposure.
PFAS render single-use packaging grease- and waterproof: microwave popcorn bags, burger wrappers, pizza boxes and even those supposedly eco-friendly, compostable paper bowls. They keep food from sticking to Teflon pans. They render fabrics stain-resistant. Present in fire foam, they douse flames. In other words, they make our lives more convenient. But that convenience comes at an outrageous cost.
Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS and PFOS) in food packaging. Washington State and Maine had previously introduced similar bans. That’s the good news. Now for the not-so-good news.
Some of the health problems associated with forever chemicals
Scientists have confirmed links between PFOA exposure and a variety of serious diseases, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. And more recent studies are now raising concerns that some of these forever chemicals may negatively impact our endocrine system, our fertility, and our immune system—and possibly even the efficacy of vaccines. [emphasis mine]Rob Bilott, lawyer and author of Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont
But without PFAS, what chemicals will packaging manufacturers use instead to render their packaging grease- and waterproof? When plastics manufacturers began removing BPA from their products, they often replaced it with BPS, which poses health risks sometimes worse than those of BPA.
Rather than playing chemical whack-a-mole, we need refill schemes in safe containers for food and drinks. This will help address both our looming forever chemicals crisis and our current waste crisis while creating jobs; companies will need to hire workers to collect, clean and refill containers.
How to reduce your exposure to PFAS
Find out if your drinking water has been contaminated
For decades, hundreds of military sites, through fire drill exercises, and companies such as DuPont and 3M, through dumping, contaminated our water with forever chemicals, knew they had contaminated our water and covered up the fact that they had contaminated our water. DuPont and its spinoff Chemours, continue to contaminate our water to this day.
If you live in the US, search for your city on this map from EWG of contaminated areas. If you do find your city on the map, contact your health department for more information.
Get a water filtration system that can reduce forever chemicals
According to EWG, the biggest source of PFAS comes out of our taps. While an inexpensive pitcher-style filter can remove some impurities from our drinking water, it cannot remove forever chemicals. EWG ranks reverse osmosis filtration as best at reducing PFAS. Charcoal activated filters remove less. Berkey claims that its filters remove these. (I’m thinking about getting a Berkey myself.)
Choose your cookware wisely
Whether you replace your Teflon pots and pans or buy pots and pans for the first time, choose materials such as cast iron, stainless steel and enameled cast iron. Go here for a post with more on picking pots and pans.
Avoid buying food packaged in throwaway containers
Single-use containers are convenient. They are also full of toxic chemicals. Check my recipe index for homemade versions of many store-bought packaged foods. Make them, pay someone to make them or bribe your kids to make them, then store and pack them in glass jars.
The Environmental Protection Agency tested US drinking water for PFAS between 2013 and 2015 (good) but did not reveal the results of those tests (bad). In addition, the EPA limit for PFAS contamination falls 10 to 90 times below than what scientists recommend. Sign this petition from EWG demanding that the EPA protect Americans from PFAS exposure.
This petition from the Center for Environmental Health demands that politicians force DuPont, Chemours and 3M to make public their continued toxic spewing into our environment. Sign that petition here. (While you’re at it, don’t buy the stuff these companies make.)
According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, single-use packaging at McDonald’s contains forever chemicals. While the packaging exposes millions of customers daily to PFAS, the ensuing waste pollutes our environment with these toxins. Sign this petition telling McDonald’s to stop selling its food in these kinds of packages.
Learn more about forever chemicals
Created by the filmmakers who brought us Fed Up (about Big Food’s addiction to sugar), the documentary The Devil We Know exposes DuPont’s appalling four decades of poisoning 70,000 citizens in a West Virginia town with PFAS, the coverup and the complicity of the US government. Go here to choose a platform for watching the film.
Based on Rob Bilott’s book, Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont, the film Dark Waters tells Bilott’s story of taking on DuPont.
While you watch your movie or documentary, enjoy stove-top popcorn that tastes incomparably better than microwave popcorn, costs less money and eliminates the single-use popcorn bag treated with toxic chemicals manufactured by greedy and despicable corporations.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
- ½ cup popcorn kernels
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- Add salt and oil to a 4-quart pot.
- Turn heat to high and if using coconut oil, allow it to melt.
- Add popcorn kernels to pot and cover pot with lid.
- Shake the pot often. Once the kernels begin to pop, they finish after a minute or two.
My book, The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet, is now out!