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What are PFAS? And Why Should You Be Concerned About Them?

As the owner or operator of a business or commercial facility, you have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for employees and visitors. This means complying with regulations designed to protect people and animals from the damaging effects of PFAS and other potentially toxic chemicals. Below is a look at the adverse impact that PFAS can have on your environment and the single best way to safeguard your operations.

What are PFAS and when did they emerge?

“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s.” 

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 

PFAS is an acronym that stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Simply put, PFAS refers to a group of manmade chemicals that are comprised of carbon and fluorine. They may also exist as compounds that feature hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and other elements. 

While PFAS emerged in the United States during the 1940s, they did not begin to gain traction until the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their heat and water-resistant properties make them a popular choice for inclusion in non-stick cookware, fast food packaging, water-resistant clothes, and firefighting foams and equipment.

Which industries have the greatest exposure to PFAS?

“PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and military… They keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective.”

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

While PFAS are becoming more widespread, they are particularly prevalent in industrial and manufacturing settings. Their ability to repel water, grease, and heat also makes them a popular choice in the fast-food industry and Here are some specific industries where PFAS are widely used:

  • Construction
  • Automotive 
  • Electronics
  • Textiles
  • Fire-fighting foam
  • Paper mills

In addition to being present in a variety of workplace settings, PFAS can be found in a variety of commercial household products such as non-stick pans, waxes, paint, and polishes. They can also be found in drinking water at manufacturing facilities, treatment plants, and firefighter training facilities.

What are some health issues linked to PFAS?

Research suggests that PFAS chemicals can be toxic to both animals and humans. In particular, exposure to high PFAS levels in animals can affect their hormonal activity and pancreatic functions. Humans who are exposed to elevated levels of PFAS face an increased risk of fetal development issues, which can ultimately lead to learning and behavioral problems. Other researchers suggest that PFAS are linked to the following:

  • Cancer
  • Fertility issues
  • Immunological disorders
  • Organ damage
  • Hormonal imbalances

Why is concern growing about PFAS?

Between the widespread exposure to PFAS and the health issues outlined above, public health officials have grown increasingly concerned about their impact. The National Institute of Environmental Health Services points to several reasons why health officials are justified in their concern about PFAS:

  • Increase in numbers: With more than 4,700 PFAS in existence, growth is increasing as opposed to slowing down.
  • Persistence: PFAS do not degrade easily, remaining present in the body and environment for a long time.
  • A widespread presence: Researchers are detecting PFAS in the urine and blood of many Americans.
  • Repeated exposure: With PFAS used in so many different types of products and processes, there are many opportunities for exposure.

As researchers continue to study the effects of PFAS, government officials have taken measures to limit them and protect residents from exposure to PFAS chemicals. Recent measures to control PFAS include

What measures can you take today to safeguard your business or property?

“Workers involved in making or processing PFAS and PFAS-containing materials are more likely to be exposed than the general population. Workers may be exposed to PFAS by inhaling them, getting them on their skin, and swallowing them, but inhaling them is the most likely route for exposure.” – U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 

As you learn more about the health risks of PFAS, your top priority is likely to protect your employees, tenants, and visitors. Achieving this goal requires your commitment to wellness and starts with education. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the impact of PFAS in your facilities:

  1. Familiarize yourself with PFAS laws and regulations

The path to protecting your employees and property begins with an understanding of the laws and regulations that impact your operations and facilities. For specific information regarding the latest PFAs regulations, you can start by reviewing the EPA’s resources about PFAS.

  1. Limit exposure to PFAS as much as possible 

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry outlines three ways people can protect themselves:

  • Use an alternate water source if your water exceeds PFAS levels set by the EPA
  • Avoid eating contaminated fish by checking your local health department for health advisories
  • Call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772 if you have any questions or concerns
  1. Educate your employees and tenants about PFAS

Once you’ve strengthened your working knowledge of PFAS chemicals, you can play an active role in making sure your employees and tenants do their part in complying with regulations. In addition to covering PFAS in training sessions, you can review any regulatory changes during your staff meetings.

Worker Carrying Dangerous Chemical Containers

What is the single best way to ensure you comply with PFAS regulations?

By taking the steps above, you can pave a path of protection for employees, building occupants, and visitors. The single best way to safeguard against the harmful effects of PFAS with minimal operational interruptions is to contact Essel Environmental for a complimentary consultation. By working with our industry experts, you can expect us to deliver the following in the way of supportive services:

  • Evaluate your facility and operations to screen for elevated PFAS levels
  • Identify the biggest PFAS safety risks you may face
  • Help you achieve compliance with regulations at the local, state, and federal level
  • Minimize potential costs associated with PFAS-related health problems

The Essel Environmental team is passionate about helping businesses and facility owners create a safe, healthful environment. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you to protect your most valuable resources!