The next day was Sunday again. The caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better.
from The Very Hungry Caterpillar
written and illustrated by Eric Carle
World Publishing Company, 1969
My two favorite foods are salad and ice cream. I try not to let a day go by without a tossed salad, lightly dressed with honey mustard dressing, homemade using my grandson’s recipe. I haven’t met an ice cream flavor I don’t like, except for Chuncky Monkey which, in my book, is yucky. I bought a small carton of it once. The picture on the package was so cute! I wish I had focused on the banana instead of the monkey, though.
When my kids were small, we belonged to a natural foods co-op. Later on, I joined Grow Youngstown, a CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) group. I, along with dozens of other ecology sustainers, met in the parking lot of our local YM/WCA to pick up fresh produce from local farms.
I educated myself about nutrition, even before that was the “thing to do.” I know what’s good for me (and my family) and I know what is not. I wish I could say that knowledge made me thin and healthy. Alas, I’m pretty healthy, but not even close to thin. Close to normal, though, which is almost good enough.
Lately, I’ve heard that no matter whether we eat only healthy foods or the junkiest junk, our bodies are full of PFAS.
WHAT? What even is that?
PFAS are a group of thousands of synthetic chemical ingredients used in a lots and lots of agricultural and consumer products since the 1940s. They are chains of carbon and fluorine atoms. Their bond is one of the strongest known, making them persistent in the environment. Some take thousands of years to degrade. Really. They are called “forever chemicals.”
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) are two of the most widely used and studied chemicals in the PFAS group.
They’re found in everything from drinking water, fish caught in contaminated water, grease-resistant fast food wrappers and paper, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, some shampoos and dental floss. And stain-repellent carpet, upholstery, and fabric, including fire-resistant baby clothes. And fertilizer from wastewater treatment plants. This runoff is used on agricultural land that can affect ground and surface water, and can be ingested by the animals that graze there.
We are probably exposed to PFAS daily. They are that ubiquitous.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “exposure to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes.” Research is ongoing regarding different levels of exposure to different PFAS. Since the research is ongoing, I will only point you to a list of possible health effects provided by the EPA at the link above.
Several states have already passed laws regulating certain PFAS in drinking water. The PBS NewsHour reported last March, that the EPA has proposed a new federal standard to regulate them. The EPA’s definition of a regulation is “a mandatory requirement that can apply ti individuals, businesses, state or local governments, non-profits, and others.” And while the EPA said the legislation would be ready by the end of 2023, it is not. Here’s the good news. A draft measure is available for public comment here. Instructions are included.
So, if PFAS are ubiquitous, and if they are seemingly unavoidable and probably dangerous, what’s a person to do?
The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has some suggestions on how we can protect ourselves.
- Filter your water. Reverse osmosis filters are the “gold standard” for filtering out PFAS in drinking water. Activated carbon filters used in some pitchers are also effective. Boiling your water will not remove PFAS and may even concentrate them more.
- Replace non-stick pans, if it is feasible.
- Don’t heat food wrapped in grease-resistant packaging.
- Pop popcorn on your stovetop instead of in PFAS-treated microwave bags.
If your plastic container is labeled certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), it does NOT contain PFAS and is safe to use.
My goal has always been to leave this post with at least a drop of optimism. But forever chemicals are here, well, forever. The best we can do, I’m afraid, it not make any more. That is easier said than done.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) continue to test PFAS in different environments, including our human bodies to discover cause-effect relationships.The EPA is working on regulations. Non-profits like NRDC, BPI, and others are working hard on their own, with each other, and with governments, both state and federal.
Beginning in 2023, California and New York have banned PFAS in paper-based food packaging. Other states are beginning to take action, too, but …
In this election year, it might be effective to send a letter or two or three to your representatives. Write a letter to the newspaper. Ask questions on your favorite social media platform. Make friends and family aware. I think that’s the first step.
I’m reading The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (Riverhead Books/Penguin Publishing Group, 2023). Mr. McBride shows us how a Jewish couple and their Black neighbors in a dilapidated section of Pottstown, PA, called Chicken Hill, live and work together, watch out for each other, and share each others’ joys and sorrows. Oh, and there’s a murder mystery to solve. Oh, and a little magic around the edges to keep things interesting. Recommended.
—Be curious! (and aware)
FB: Oscar nominations will be revealed this evening. Many movies are still on my “to watch” list. I might have to wait till the Library gets them on DVD. I’ll skip the microwave SkinnyPop and go for a bowl of popcorn, freshly popped on my stovetop.