3 Things You Can Do to Fight Toxic PFAS Forever Chemicals

Published Dec 6, 2023


Clean Water

As the chemical industry and its allies work to block PFAS policy, we all have the power to fight for the protections we need. In this Livable Future LIVE event, we spoke with experts on how to do just that.

As the chemical industry and its allies work to block PFAS policy, we all have the power to fight for the protections we need. In this Livable Future LIVE event, we spoke with experts on how to do just that.

From frying pans to raincoats, carpets to mascara, corporations profit handsomely off “non-stick,” “waterproof,” and similarly labeled products. But these everyday goods come with a high cost. Scientists are uncovering growing evidence that PFAS, the chemicals behind these attributes, are incredibly harmful to our health — and they’re everywhere.

Thousands of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” have infiltrated our lives, creating a public health crisis on a near-unimaginable scale. At Food & Water Watch, we are fighting for strong regulations to stop PFAS and hold corporations accountable for cleaning up their toxic mess. 

At our November Livable Future LIVE event, we sat down with experts to discuss how we can push for the PFAS policies we need. Our panel included: 

  • Mary Grant, Director of our Public Water for All Campaign,
  • Natalie Balbuena, Food & Water Watch researcher and author of our report, “PFAS and the Chemistry of Concealment,” and
  • Kyla Bennett, Director of Science Policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Here are some highlights:

How Corporations Are Swaying the Public Response to PFAS

As Natalie explained, companies exploited weak regulations to keep us in the dark about PFAS, even as they gathered mountains of evidence suggesting harm. Their monopoly on information allowed them to keep marketing and selling PFAS without regulators or the public knowing the truth. 

This is a particularly egregious example of how companies sacrifice our health for profit. And it underscores the fact that knowledge is power. 

Now, thanks to the work of frontline communities, advocates, and scientists, the truth is coming out. And with more knowledge, we have more power to demand protections for our families and communities.

However, we’re facing another challenge. As Natalie detailed at this event and in her report, the chemical industry is spending big to influence lawmakers. In just a few years, current and former top PFAS makers and the trade group that advocates for them have spent more than $100 million lobbying on PFAS and other issues.

Learn more about the lobbying efforts around PFAS legislation in our recent report, “PFAS & The Chemistry of Concealment.”

We know that this makes our fight harder, but not impossible. At Food & Water Watch, we’ve shown again and again how people power can trump corporate cash. 

3 Things You Can Do to Address the PFAS Crisis

1. Protect Yourself and Your Family at Home

Natalie and Kyla explained several steps we can take in our lives to protect ourselves from PFAS. “The number one thing you can do is get a filter if you can afford one,” Kyla said. She uses one on her faucet, as her municipal well is highly contaminated.

Kyla also recommended avoiding plastics, especially plastic containers. PFAS can leach from the containers into the food, cleaners, and other products inside.

Natalie cautioned against buying waterproof items like clothing, which are usually coated with PFAS. Though some industries are starting to make waterproof items without PFAS, there isn’t any regulation, so there is no guarantee any of it is really PFAS-free. 

We can also reduce exposure on our dinner plates, Natalie said. Research has linked diets higher in processed foods to increased PFAS levels, and found higher levels of PFAS in meats and dairy. Kyla explained that organic farms can’t use PFAS-laden sewage sludge to fertilize their fields, so choosing fresh organic foods when you can is also helpful.

2. Support Federal Regulations to Stop the Flood of PFAS

Individual actions can help limit your PFAS exposure, but to protect everyone, we need collective action to pass policies. Many lifestyle changes are not accessible or affordable for everyone. 

To fully prevent PFAS exposure, Mary explained, “We also need to keep the pressure on policymakers, so that we turn off the faucet of PFAS.” This is especially important to protect communities of color, which are more likely to live near sources of contamination.

Specifically, Kyla, Natalie, and Mary outlined several changes we need at the federal level:

  1. A broad, clear, and consistent definition of PFAS, which the government has lacked so far,
  2. Regulation of the entire class of PFAS chemicals, so we stop playing whack-a-mole, 
  3. A ban on all non-essential uses of PFAS,
  4. Final, enforced legal limits on PFAS levels in drinking water,
  5. Federal funding to remove PFAS from water through legislation such as the WATER Act, and
  6. Designation of PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, which holds polluters accountable for paying to clean up their contamination.

Currently, the EPA is considering polluter-pays action for two PFAS through the Superfund program. However, several industries are lobbying for exemptions from clean-up responsibilities. An exemption has never been granted before, and doing so now would set a dangerous precedent for future regulations, Kyla warned. 

Ultimately, as Natalie explained, The companies and industries want to push this bill [for cleanup] onto us.” We can’t accept this, and we must push for policies that fully protect us from PFAS and hold companies accountable.

The PFAS Action Act will help protect us from PFAS and hold companies accountable. Take action to urge Congress to pass it!

3. Spread Awareness Locally to Protect Your Community and Build Support

Both Kyla and Natalie stressed the importance of sharing information and fighting locally to tackle the PFAS crisis. For example, Kyla has been visiting municipal meetings around the country to spread awareness about PFAS in artificial turf, often used in public sports fields and playgrounds. Natalie also suggested talking to local officials about PFAS: “Call them, make sure that they have it on their platform.”

Work like this helps to push immediate action in your backyard, while building support for national policies. And it’s working — localities and states around the country are filling in the gaps left by the EPA. 

For example, in Massachusetts, where Kyla lives, the state has regulated six PFAS in drinking water for nearly four years. Maine, meanwhile, became the first state to address PFAS in beef and dairy. And Minnesota recently banned all non-essential uses of PFAS after years of tireless community activism.

Knowledge Is Power, and We’re Gaining Both

PFAS are everywhere, and addressing them will continue to be challenging. In such circumstances, Natalie emphasized, “You gotta really focus on, ‘Well, what can I control?’ And, that’s my awareness, right? Many of the key tools we have begin with awareness.”

Spreading awareness has made a huge difference over the past few decades. The work of activists and communities brought the PFAS crisis to light and turned knowledge into power. 

We’re now seeing hundreds of new proposed regulations and laws. Companies are starting to face accountability through lawsuits, and brands are starting to pledge to stop using PFAS.

“When you educate the public and the public starts pushing back against the companies that are making these products, that works, actually,” Kyla said.

But we also know that without strict regulations, companies will always exploit the loopholes, avoid accountability, and continue endangering us for the sake of profits. To protect our communities, we need strong, urgent action to address PFAS.

Watch the Full Recording

You can watch the full recording in the YouTube video below. Learn more about:

  • Why we need a broad definition of PFAS and why we need to ban all non-essential uses,
  • What exactly corporations knew about PFAS and the strategies they used to cover up what they knew,
  • How the PFAS crisis furthers environmental injustice by disproportionately harming Black, Brown, and low-income communities,
  • The risk of PFAS in our foods from spreading sewage on fields as fertilizer,
  • The role of the U.S. Department of Defense in spreading PFAS and its efforts to avoid accountability,
  • The revolving door between industry and regulators that allows dangerous chemicals onto the market, and
  • More successes around the country in regulating PFAS and holding polluters accountable.

Resources From the Event

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