PFAS,meaning and where they are: what are PFAS, what are the health risks and what to do to protect yourself from perfluoroacrylic acids.
PFAS, meaning and what they are
The meaning of the acronymPFASrefers to a family of chemicals:Perfluoro Alkyl Substances, also known asperfluoroacrylic acids.
What are perfluoroacrylic acids?These are compounds widely used in industry. Characterized by a "fluorinating hydrophobic alkyl chain".
In practical terms, IPFASI'macidsvery strong in liquid form. Also dangerous because their chemical structure makes them resistant tonatural processesof degradation thus, if not properly disposed of, they end up contaminating the environment even reaching the groundwater.
THEPFASthey are employed in various sectors. From the textile industry to the paper industry, from tooling to the chemical industry. In practical terms, theperfluoroacrylic acidsthey are used for the tanning of leathers, in the treatment of carpets, in the production of paper and cardboard for food use, to coat non-stick pans, to make water-repellent technical fabric (bags and jackets and clothing in technical fabric!) and in the production of other impermeable objects, which therefore require the hydro- and oil-repellent properties ofPFAS.
PFOA and PFOS
In the large family of Perfluoro Alkyl Substances,the two most common classes are those ofperfluorooctanoic acid(PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate acid (PFOS). PFOS is used for the production of fire fighting foams while PFOA is widely used in the production of the non-stick layer of low cost pots and pans.
Please note: today, the best non-stick pans on the Italian market are all PFOA-free.
The problem is that these substances, being very stable, persist in the environment. In particular, PFOS begin the degradation phase after 5 years causing many health risks.
PFAS, health risks
At the moment, thePerfluoro Alkyl Substancesthey are considered among the risk factors for a wide range of diseases. These are "relatively new substances" whose impact onhuman healthit has not yet been thoroughly studied.
It is believed that iPFAScan affect the endocrine system by compromising growth and fertility and that, moreover, they arecarcinogenic substances.
As with most pollutants (such as PM10 itself), thehealth effectsare not immediate: it is believed that long exposure can cause the onset ofkidney cancer, testicles and thyroid diseases. PFAS could cause hypertension in pregnancy and ulcerative colitis; there is no shortage of studies that link exposure toPFASto managerial and fetal pathologies.
Contamination and PFAS in Italy
In Italy, particularly high concentrations were found inblood of the populationof some municipalities in the Vicenza area. Although we only hear about it today, in reality, as early as 2007 a study published in the journalAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistryhad detected the massive presence ofPFASinNorthern Italy. Again, in 2013, our CNR had identified an area between Padua, Vicenza and Verona, with high concentrations of these acids.
How did these substances end up in the environment and above all, in the blood of the Vicentines?
If disposed of illegally or incorrectly, iPFASthey easily penetrate into the aquifers and, through the water, reach the fields and, by absorption by the root system, end up in the food we consume.
At high concentrations, iPFASI'mtoxicfor all living organisms, including man. If some effects (tumors, fetal diseases, thyroid ...) are visible in the long term, it should be noted that these substances tend to accumulate in the body through processes ofbio-amplificationto the detriment of man who is at the top of the food chain. A bit like the mercury contamination in tuna and larger fish.
For the prevention of diseases related toPFAS, a treatment of plasmapheresis was proposed to about 2,000 citizens residing in the most highly concentrated areas. It is a sort of "washing of the blood" which allows to separate the liquid component of the blood (plasma) from the cellular component in order to removeacidsharmful.
Fordabat least partly the problem, on 3 October 2017 the Veneto regional council imposed stricter limits on the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water.
The images above show the diffusion of Perfluoro Alkyl Substances (PFAS) in Italy. Photo from the site arpa.veneto.it