Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ contaminate indoor air at worrying levels, study finds

A new study found that toxic PFAS compounds are contaminating air in homes, schools, and stores at alarming levels.
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island, Green Science Policy Institute and the University of Rhode Island tested indoor air at 20 locations and found the forever chemicals in 17 of them. These airborne compounds may be released from PFAS-treated carpeting and clothing, and then attach to dust or float freely through the indoor environment.

Experts had previously believed that water and food were the main routes through which people are exposed to PFAS. However, the authors of the study note that most people spend around 90% of their time indoors and that breathing in chemicals may be a third major exposure route.

It is an under-utilized and potentially important source for exposure to PFAS according to Tom Bruton (co-author and senior scientist at Green Science).

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, also known as PFAS, are about 9,000 compounds that can be used to make products waterproof, stain-, or heat-resistant. These chemicals are found in thousands of everyday consumer products, such as shoes, carpeting, stain guards, and carpeting, due to their effectiveness. They are used by textile manufacturers to make waterproof clothing.

Because they are not natural break down, PFAS have been called "forever chemicals". They can accumulate in animals and humans and cause cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, thyroid disease, reduced immunity, hormone disruption, and other serious health issues.

An analysis by the February Guardian of household products revealed that fluorine was an indicator of PFAS in 15 of them. These chemicals are so common that it is hard to pinpoint where all the airborne PFAAS are coming from. However, the new study did detect them in some carpets and clothing.

The new PFAS measurement method was used to check the air in the study published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday. It detected high levels of PFAS in several kindergarten classrooms. The study also examined offices, the supply room for an outdoor clothing store, and several university classrooms.

A 2017 study showed a correlation between high levels in PFAS in the atmosphere and human blood serum. The new study, which used modeling to determine that kindergarteners were more likely to be exposed by inhaling the compounds than by inhaling them, found that they were more likely to have been inhaled.

This confirms that as long PFAS are present in products we use in our daily lives and in our homes, we will continue to breathe it in.

Notable are also the types of PFAS the study identified. The most common was 6:2 FTOH, which is used in food packaging, stain guards, and floor waxes. The industry claimed 6:2 FTOH was safe. However, the Guardian discovered that two major PFAS manufacturers had concealed studies that showed that the compounds were highly toxic in low doses in laboratory animals and that they can stay in the bodies of animals for longer periods than previously thought.

Scientists from industry, federal agencies, and independent researchers now link 6:2 FTO to kidney disease, cancer and neurological damage, developmental issues, autoimmune disorders, and researchers also discovered higher mortality rates in young animals and mothers who were exposed to the chemicals.

A new study also revealed high levels of 8 to2 FTOH. This compound was claimed by major PFAS producers in the US as having been phased out because it is dangerous. Its presence indicates that not all companies have eliminated it, or that the chemical is still in products from countries that have not phased out production.

Bruton said that this is yet another reason to shut off production and use of PFAS.