According to CNN, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals have made their way into the U.S. food supply. PFAS is a family of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and in our bodies. Sometimes called forever chemicals, PFAS all share signature elemental bonds of fluorine and carbon, which are extremely strong and difficult to break down in the environment or in our bodies.
PFAS chemicals have been used by various industries because of their ability to repel oil and water. They’ve been manufactured since the 1940s and can be found in non-stick products, stains, paints, cleaning products, food packaging, and firefighting foams. PFAS have been linked to adverse health impacts including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
The FDA tested a dairy farm near a U.S. Air Force Base where firefighting foams containing PFAS have been used. According to the agency, area water samples tested 35 times greater than the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. The researchers analyzed 13 samples from the dairy farm, including water, animal feed, and five actual milk samples. All 13 samples had detectable levels of PFAS that were of similar chemical structure as what was used in firefighting foams. The FDA said the samples were “determined to be a human health concern and all milk from the farm was discarded.”
The FDA also analyzed produce samples from farms close to a PFAS manufacturing plant. According to the agency, area water wells are known to be contaminated with the PFAS known as GenX. Of the 20 produce samples tested, 16 were leafy greens such as lettuce, cabbage, kale, and collard greens. Among those, 15 showed detectable levels of PFAS. According to the FDA, “samples were determined not likely to be a human health concern.”
Over the last year, the FDA has expanded its testing to analyze for PFAS in foods typically eaten by Americans, and not associated with specific contamination areas. The samples analyzed were from foods originally collected as part of the FDA’s Total Diet Study (TDS) in 2017 and analyzed in 2019. This is the first time the FDA has tested for PFAS in such a highly diverse sample of foods. Varying levels of PFAS were found in 14 out of 91 total samples, but the FDA claims that its safety assessment determined the products were not likely to be health concern at the levels that were detected.
"Overall, our findings did not detect PFAS in the vast majority of the foods tested," said the FDA in a statement released on June 11. "In addition, based on the best available current science, the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern, in other words a food safety risk in human food, at the levels found in this limited sampling."
"To ensure we are taking the best approach to this complex issue, we have established an internal agency PFAS workgroup with representatives from the human and animal foods programs," the FDA continued. "A key objective of this workgroup is to establish base-line levels for PFAS in foods, which requires data from these initial and future surveys, and will be used to then estimate overall PFAS exposure. The workgroup will use a systematic, risk-based approach to identify and prioritize FDA activities to reduce exposure to PFAS in human and animal food, guided by available data."