PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of over 9,000 chemicals that are often added to a large variety of consumer products to make them stain-resistant, non-sticking, or waterproof. In addition to items including carpets, upholstery, or apparel, PFAS are also widely used in a variety of everyday products such as food packaging, non-stick cookware, cosmetics, or even dental floss. Now, a research team led by the Silent Spring Institute has found that many children’s products – including those labeled “green” or “nontoxic” – also contain these harmful chemicals, exposing children to a wide range of health-related risks.
Many studies have linked PFAS with the risk of developing various diseases, including cancers, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, or asthma. Moreover, there is also evidence that PFAS can suppress the immune system, thus weakening the body’s ability to ward off infections, as well as the effectiveness of vaccines, particularly in children.
“Children’s bodies are still developing and are especially sensitive to chemical exposures,” explained study co-author Dr. Laurel Schaider, a senior scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. “It makes sense that parents would want to steer clear of products that contain ingredients that could impact their children’s health now and in the future.”
Dr. Schaider and her colleagues have tested 93 different products frequently used by children and adolescents, including clothing, bedding, or furnishing. The scientists chose products that were labeled as stain- or water-resistant, as well as “green” or “nontoxic.”
By using a rapid screening method to test these products for fluorine – a major marker of PFAS – they found that 54 of the products contained detectable levels of this toxic chemical, with the highest concentration discovered in a school uniform shirt.
The scientists then tested a subset of products for 36 different PFAS chemicals and discovered that all products labeled stain- or water-resistant contained significant concentrations of these chemicals, regardless of whether they were also marketed as “green” or “nontoxic.” PFAS were detected most frequently in upholstered furniture, clothing, and pillow protectors.
“These are products that children come into close contact with every day and over a long period of time. Given the toxicity of PFAS and the fact that the chemicals don’t serve a critical function, they should not be allowed in products,” said study co-author Kathryn Rodgers, a doctoral student at the Boston University School of Public Health.
These findings highlight the need for green certifiers (third party organizations assessing whether products contain harmful substances) to include PFAS in their criteria and to conduct more thorough reviews of the products they certify.
The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.