From PFAS Fear to Cooking Gear – Eco-Anxiety or Toxic Media?
Climate Change. Inflation. Global Pandemics. Wars. Microplastics. Environmental Disasters. Forever Chemicals.
In recent years, a plethora of concerning topics have flooded the news and media. As a fortunate outcome, these relevant topics have been peaking individual interest. However, an unfortunate result of being constantly surrounded by concerning and depressing news is the heavy toll it takes on mental health. Regrettably, mental health issues and illness, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs), schizophrenia, and many more, have only recently been getting the proper advocation that is required to address the issues (Cianconi et al. 2023; Whitmore-Williams et al. 2017). Even more so, chronic fear of ecological (eco-) and environmental crisis has grown so immensely over the years, that the psychologic and psychiatric community have now created terms like “psychoterratic syndromes” and “eco-anxiety” (Iberdrola 2021).
Psychoterratic syndromes are defined as mental psyche effects that are brought on by the threat of environmental detriment. In relation, eco-anxiety has been defined as, “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of the next generations” (Cianconi et al. 2023). It is interesting to note how many of these articles and surveys reveal climate change as being the most common driving force for much of the angst many are experiencing. A 2021 survey indicated that 84% of the 10,000 worldwide participants (aged 16 -25 years old) felt moderately worried or more when asked about climate change (Schechter 2023). However, the Environmental Standards staff members working in the chemistry field know that there are many unfortunate environmental concerns like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for example.
Since the release of documentaries and films like “The Devil We Know” and “Dark Waters,“ PFAS has been a big topic of concern; however, mental health studies in relation to PFAS could not be found. This seemed surprising to several of our staff members because after consuming these films and reading the health effects presented by the Agency of Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (2022]), they felt that the potential stress related to PFAS exposure could certainly give the stress related to climate change a run for its money. Some staff members have experienced PFAS anxieties firsthand. In fact, prior to becoming a father, one staff member became extremely concerned with the pans he used for cooking. He did extensive research and bought all new PFAS-free tested pans for his household, in hope to minimize exposure to his fiancé and unborn child. Another staff member became concerned about cookware several years ago (back when PFAS were referred to as perfluorinated compounds [PFCs]). She replaced her cookware, but whenever she goes to restaurant, she worries about what kind of pans they might be using.
Reasons for Hope
Fast forward to today, high concerns regarding PFAS may be starting to subside a bit in the scientific community due to the increased knowledge of the advancements being made to combat PFAS. In September 2023, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Society of Women Environmental Professionals (PA SWEP) organized a PFAS Seminar, in which organizations such as Waters/ERA; Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox, LLP; Environmental Standards, Inc.; REGENESIS; and Montrose Environmental Solutions, provided a wealth of PFAS information that provided hope that these seemingly indestructible compounds do have weaknesses and combatting them is not a forever losing battle. Below are several items that were covered at this seminar:
- Field-implemented treatment technologies, such as, granulated and colloidal activated carbon (GAC and CAC), ion exchange (IX) resins, high-pressure membrane systems, and foam fractionation, have had great success at liquid cleanup sites.
- Field-implemented treatment technologies, such as sorption and stabilization, excavation and disposal, and soil washing have been implemented to mitigate and minimize PFAS contamination from further spreading.
- Advancements in laboratory technology, instrumentation and techniques allow for more accurate site assessments with lower detection limits. In addition, similarities in methodology and performance, through further research and method updates based on feedback, have driven laboratories to analyze samples with more consistency.
Methodology, regulation, and legislation have developed and improved over the years, requiring more consistent monitoring and reporting. One significant example of legislation improvement is the finalization of Rule 88 FR 70516, based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) section 8 (a) (7) (Tamayo & Tang 2023). For more information about this ruling please see Rock Vitale’s newsletter article PFAS and TSCA – The OMG Reporting Hoop the Hoops. In addition, the US EPA continues to study these compounds through regulations like the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), which helps the agency to determine the need to expand contaminant regulations and actions.
Many uncertainties still remain in the topic of PFAS and the policy surrounding them. However, it is important to recognize that many previous contaminants of concern started in similar fashion, yet scientific advances had gone on to allow for remediation and restoration throughout the world. Thankfully, technology and innovation have advanced so much that we have an advantage in comparison to many other previous contaminants. There is still a long way to go, but one should consider the light in the dark.
Additionally, there are also many actions individuals can take that can make a difference in the fight against PFAS contamination. As consumers, our most impactful voice is spoken through our purchases. You can essentially vote for what products companies should be offering. Some of you may recall the law of demand from your college microeconomics class. This principle states that as price increases, the demand decreases. But in this case, the price in question is not a financial one. The price is the toll on our health and environment, and that is the price that would need to be lowered in order for demand to increase. Clean Water Action, a U.S. organization working to protect our health and aquatic environments, has compiled a list of things we can do to reduce our exposure to PFAS in our everyday lives. It is worth noting that many environmental choices are sold as new and often pricey products; however, there are budget-friendly choices one can make. While it is important to vote with your dollar, it is even more pressing to make sure those dollars are keeping you and your family stable first. Before reading these options, consider what is realistic for your situation. If you cannot conveniently sustain the activity, then it is not a sustainable option for you. With this in mind, the authors have provided the Buy It or Budget options.
Most notably the star of the show, when it comes to products containing PFAS, is cookware. This is a concern, because at high enough temperatures, PFAS will create fumes that can be harmful to those within the household, especially pet birds (Kroshefsky, R. D. 1980).
- Buy It: Stainless steel or cast-iron cookware sets take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, they can be a dream to cook on.
- Budget: Can’t get a new set of pots and pans, if you have non-stick pans at home, avoid heating them at or above 400°F. Also, do not use metal utensils, and never clean the pans with steel wool or other abrasives, as this allows the coating to flake off into your meal (Ventura).
Ever wonder how some foods slide out of certain containers with no trouble, or why the inside of a microwave popcorn bag feels the way it does? Studies found that almost half of the tested wrappers in certain food products contained PFAS.
- Buy it:
- Buy glass or metal containers that you can use for food storage at home and on the go.
- Use an air popper to pop your popcorn.
- Do not reheat your food in take-out containers. Ideally, transfer leftovers into your own containers when you get home.
- Purchase loose kernels at the store and pop them in a brown paper bag or on the stove.
In today’s world, stain-resistant fabric/fibers most likely contain PFAS. While the benefits are nice, our skin absorbs a great deal from its surroundings. It is important to consider what is up close and personal to you.
We’ve all been shamed for our flossing habits at some point in our lives. What makes dental floss glide through our teeth so well? You guessed it – PFAS.
- Buy it: Search for PFAS-free floss or invest in a water flosser.
- Budget: Oil pulling is an oral hygiene practice that has benefits (Shanbhag 2017).
Read the Label:
When shopping, keep an eye out for the terms “PTFE” or “perfluor-“ on household items and cosmetic labels and avoid those products (Ventura).
These are quick glances into potential solutions in your life. We encourage you to research more before diving in so that you can make the most informed choice for your unique situation. If you do choose to incorporate these changes, take it step by step, as you are more likely to find success trying one swap at a time. Will one purchase or action change the world? Of course not, but collective efforts that affect corporate bottom lines will undoubtedly inspire changes.
Remember, headlines can be scary sometimes, but eco-anxiety can stem from knowing something about the topic, but not knowing the depth of it. We live in a world of harsh headlines that we often absorb without reading all the article (cheers to those who made it this far). In a world with information that is so accessible, make sure that you are doing research and asking questions beyond the headline.
Keep watch for upcoming newsletters. The Standard will continue to discuss eco-anxiety topics beyond climate change.
Quality Assurance Chemist
SENIOR TECHNICAL EDITOR
Quality Assurance Chemist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2022, November 1). Potential Health Effects of PFAS Chemicals. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/index.html
Cianconi, P., Hanife, B., Grillo, F., Betro’, S., Lesmana, C. B. J., & Janiri, L. (2023, June 30). Eco-emotions and psychoterratic syndromes: Reshaping Mental Health Assessment Under Climate Change. The Yale journal of biology and medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10303262/
Iberdrola. (2021, April 22). Eco-anxiety: the psychological aftermath of the climate crisis. https://www.iberdrola.com/social-commitment/what-is-ecoanxiety#:~:text=The%20American%20Psychology%20Association%20(APA,and%20that%20of%20next%20generations%E2%80%9D
Kroshefsky, R. D. (1980). Teflon® poisoning: How dangerous is your cooking to your birds?. AFA Watchbird Magazine Archive. https://watchbird-ojs-tamu.tdl.org/watchbird/index.php/watchbird/article/view/1930
Schechter, D., Rush, H., & Horner, C. (2023, March 2). As climate changes, climate anxiety rises in Youth. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-anxiety/
Shanbhag, V. K. L. (2017, January). Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A Review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016300281
Tamayo, M., & Tsang , Dr. H. (2023, October 16). US EPA finalizes PFAS Reporting Rule. SGSCorp. https://www.sgs.com/en/news/2023/10/safeguards-13323-us-epa-finalizes-pfas-reporting-rule
Ventura, A. (n.d.). 10 Things You Can Do About Toxic PFAS Chemicals. Clean Water Action | Clean Water Fund.
Whitmore-Williams, S. C., Manning, C., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017, March). MENTAL HEALTH AND OUR CHANGING CLIMATE: IMPACTS, IMPLICATIONS, AND GUIDANCE. American Psycholocial Association, Climate for Health, ecoAmerica.