Environmental Health Promotion

This is the second mini-blog of the series “Environmental Health Promotion” that is part of the 2023 Environmental Sustainability report that emphasizes global health challenges that pose a significant threat to both the environment and human health. The objective is to raise public knowledge of environmental sustainability and global health challenges and offer individuals opportunities to prevent and reduce their exposure to these concerns. With only one world and no alternative planet, even simple actions count for the benefit of everyone. We can all play a part in preserving the world’s health, ensuring that our children and future generations can experience the same quality of life we have or even better.

You can find the other blogs related to the report here:

  1. Antibiotic Resistance
  2. Vaccines and Immunization
  3. Microplastics
  4. Mycotoxins

PFAS — Per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances

Per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of synthetic chemicals that have gained extensive attention due to their persistence in the environment and potential health impacts. While these chemicals have proved beneficial in many ways, the fact that they are long-lasting and bioaccumulative has raised concerns about the possible hazards to human health and the environment. They can thrive in soil, water and air, and bioaccumulate (increase in concentration) in particular organisms at various levels in the food chain. PFAS can be found in cosmetics and personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap), cleaning supplies (dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent), food packaging (microwave popcorn bags or pizza boxes), nonstick cookware (Teflon pans), and water repellent textiles for outdoor gear (tents or camping equipment).

There are several ways in which you may be exposed to PFAS, including

  1. Drinking contaminated tap water or private well water;
  2. Growing or raising food close to facilities that use or produce PFAS;
  3. Eating fish caught in PFAS-contaminated water;
  4. Accidentally inhaling contaminated soil or dust;
  5. Eating food packaged in materials containing PFAS; and
  6. Using consumer products that contain PFAS, such as stain-resistant carpeting and water-repellent clothing.

PFAS compounds are frequently indicated on product labels, therefore, avoid any ingredient that contains the word “fluoro.” The contents of a consumer product are listed on the label in descending order of amount. Another approach to determining whether a product includes PFAS is to paint a piece of paper with a sample of your lipstick or mascara, add a drop of water, then check the next morning to see if the product is still there. If it is, then there is PFAS in the product.

How serious is the problem?

It is crucial to understand that exposure to PFAS can result in harmful health effects, including cancer. Several epidemiological studies reveal that PFAS exposure impacts the immune system and may cause a decrease in the antibody response to vaccination. Individuals exposed to PFAS also face an increased risk of several health conditions, including elevated cholesterol, lower liver enzyme levels, and low birth weight. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that exposure to PFAS may lead to a higher risk of developing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Some PFAS (e.g PFOS and PFOA) are even categorized as reproductive toxins and suspected carcinogens, and have been proven to cause health hazards.

Children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of PFAS. These chemicals have been shown to pass through the placenta and can also be transmitted to infants through breast milk during breastfeeding. Several studies have highlighted the potential risks associated with PFAS exposure in early life— including developmental and immune system effects, low birth weight, and reduced response to vaccination. In addition, recent research has linked PFAS exposure to higher risks of type 2 diabetes in women. It is therefore important to limit exposure to PFAS in all stages of life, particularly in pregnancy and infancy.

What can I do?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, individuals can take the following actions to reduce exposure to PFAS

  1. Contact your local water utility and ask them to test the water for PFAS or share any insight they may have about PFAS to find out if they are present in your drinking water.
  2. Avoid eating fish from PFAS-affected waterways. Contact your state or tribal fish advisory programs to find out which waterways are of concern.
  3. Always confirm whether household products contain PFAS before using them.
  4. To learn more about the recommended course of action, contact your local water utility, state environmental protection agency, or health department.
  5. For breastfeeding mothers, read additional information on discussing breastfeeding and PFAS with your doctor here.

By taking these steps, you can help limit your and your close ones’ exposure to PFAS and reduce the potential risks to health. Through your own knowledge and experience, you have the power to assist the most vulnerable and in need.


Author: Fion Chan*     
Edited by: Jasmine Therese Arcilla

*Fion is SOGH’s Environmental Sustainability Manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and is pursuing a Master of Medical Science in Global Health at the University of Gothenburg.

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