How worried should I be about PFAS?

How worried should I be about PFAS?


I have a rather bad habit in the mornings of getting up and looking straight at my phone and heading into my emails. I’m aware that I should probably get up and do some deep breathing, yoga, make the bed or get outside for 5 minutes, but there you go, I’m only human.


The Times sends me a ‘daily briefing’ that I often scan through, although rarely click through further. This morning however, they hooked me in with a worrying article on ‘forever chemicals’ in our food. Anyone who knows me reasonably well, knows that I’m pretty into my nutrition and gut health and apart from being addicted to sugar, manage to eat pretty well. I’ve also really gotten into growing (or trying to grow) my own food and cooking from scratch to avoid ultra-processed foods as much as possible. The other thing that I am aware of (thank you Woody Harrelson’s Kiss the Ground Documentary) is our food system and the chemicals we are putting into it. I’ve been aware of the “dirty dozen” of fruits and vegetables (hello strawberries and spinach) most contaminated with chemicals and pesticides and have tried to buy these organic where I can along with oats (I can thank Professor Tim Spector for letting me know about that one).


What I wasn’t aware of however, was PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ that are so pervasive they are even found in organics produce. Not just that, but our tap water, soil and even the rain!


PFAS are a bunch of chemicals that are made by fusing carbon and fluorine atoms together and were discovered un 1938 by a chemist working for DuPont. Invisible to the naked eye, they can now be found in pretty much every home on the planet. They are virtually impossible to avoid even if you live the most simple and sustainable lifestyle. You will find them in your non-stick pans (Teflon) food packaging (that sort of waxy coating that makes cardboard water and grease repellent) stain resistant clothes, carpets and sofas and of course our personal hygiene products such as shampoos. More worryingly however, because they don’t degrade (or if they do they degrade into more PFAS) they can now be found in our soil, water system (including drinking water from your tap) and food – even the organic stuff. These chemicals are so pervasive that even though organic produce isn’t sprayed with chemicals, it picks up these PFAS from the soil and water used to grow them.


Being as omni-present as they are, a study as far back as 2007 estimated the presence of these chemicals in 99% of all people. This is worrying to me. The evidence isn’t clear about what kind of risk these chemicals pose to us as humans or to our ecosystem and environment as a whole. There are studies showing a link between long term exposure to these chemicals and an increased risk of health issues like cancers, reduced fertility and lower immunity. These studies tend to show correlation rather than causation, but ultimately, they just haven’t been round for long enough for us to know the full effect of what they might be doing. This statement in itself is also worrying. They haven’t been round long enough for us to know the full and long term effects of what they might do and yet we all interact with them on a daily basis and likely contain quite a few of them in our bodies.  


The last thing I want to do is scaremonger – we all have enough to worry about in our day to day lives, but it is something I think people should be aware of. At least so they can try and take a few small steps to at least limit their exposure where possible. So, onto the good news. As far as personal care products go, PFAS, in the UK are actually quite limited and are being phased out as producers recognise the potential harms. Again, with cosmetics and personal care products you are unlikely to ingest anything and so the likelihood of them getting into your system (though absorption of the skin) is also quite small. That being said, I don’t think there is any harm in being cautious and the best way I have found is by using the Yuka app. Just scan the bar code of your cosmetic or personal care product and it will give it a score along with notifying you of any potentially harmful ingredients in there.


As few other tips to limit your exposure:

  • Get rid of your non-stick pans and opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
  • Reduce your consumption of food that comes in packaging with that ‘waxy’ lining that makes it resistant to water. Eg pop your own corn in a pan, don’t do it in those microwave bags as they almost certainly will have been coated in PFAS.
  • Take out containers like the ones you get chips or burgers in from big fast food chains almost certainly have PFAS coatings on them too, so if you can, reduce the amount of food you eat from these containers.
  • Avoid dental floss that has a PFAS coating – do a quick google for brands that are PFAS free.
  • Ask for untreated carpets. Realistically, you’re unlikely to find it, but asking for it at least rases awareness and hopefully increased demand will have a positive impact down the line.


As for foods and water. Well, you can certainly invest in a good water filter (reverse osmosis ones seem to be the best at removing PFAS). You can also try to shop organic as although this won’t eliminate your PFAS exposure, studies seem to suggest that it can at least reduce it.

One last thing, it should be obvious, but we at An’du do not have any PFAS in our products!

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