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Two Forever Chemicals More Toxic Than Previously Thought

Health + Wellness
woman pouring microwave popcorn from the bag into a bowl
Forever chemical PFOA can be found in microwave popcorn bags. Aleksandar Jankovic / E+ / Getty Images

A new analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that forever chemicals are even more toxic than previously thought.

The agency announced Tuesday that it was asking its Scientific Advisory Board to review draft scientific documents about the health impacts of two types of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).


"EPA has transmitted to the Science Advisory Board four draft documents with recent scientific data and new analyses that indicate that negative health effects may occur at much lower levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS than previously understood and that PFOA is a likely carcinogen," the agency wrote in a press release.

PFAS are a type of chemical that have been widely used in consumer products and by industry since the 1940s, the EPA explained. They are concerning because they take a long time to break down and can accumulate in human bodies, animals and the environment. Common uses include fire extinguishing foam, food packaging and stain and water repellents.

PFOA and PFOS are two of the most well known and well studied PFAS. PFOA was made by Dupont to make Teflon, while PFOS was used by 3M in Scotchgard, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) explained in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. The EPA pushed for them to be phased out in 2015, however, they persist in the environment, along with other PFAS.

The EPA estimates that more than 200 million people in the U.S. are exposed to PFAS in their drinking water, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found PFAS in the blood of almost everyone it has tested, according to The Hill.

The new draft documents will be used to develop enforceable drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS, something the EPA has promised to do by 2023. They include the finding that exposure to the chemicals can reduce the efficacy of vaccinations, EWG said.

"Under our new PFAS Strategic Roadmap, EPA is moving aggressively on clear, robust, and science-based actions to protect communities suffering from legacy PFOA and PFOS contamination," EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in the agency announcement. "This action will ensure a rigorous review from experienced scientists to strengthen our understanding of this preliminary information as the agency works toward developing revised health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, and soon establishing regulations that protect communities from these contaminants."

Currently, the non-enforceable limit for the two PFAS in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), according to EWG. However, EWG and other groups have long argued that it should be much tougher, at one ppt. The public health advocacy group welcomed the new development.

"PFOA and PFOS are highly toxic substances that remain pervasive in the drinking water of millions of Americans," EWG senior scientist David Andrews said in the press release. "No one should have to worry about increased cancer risk, reproductive harms, or immune system harms from PFOA and PFOS in their tap water. Today's action is an important step towards setting health protective drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS that reflect the latest science finding harm to people."

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