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While the widespread use of PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” makes them nearly impossible to avoid, experts say you can reduce your exposure to them. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
  • The state of California has created new legislation banning the use of PFAS in “juvenile products.”
  • PFAS are often used in children’s products to provide stain and water resistance.
  • PFAS have been linked to numerous health effects, including cancer.
  • They are often called “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment.
  • Experts say you can limit your exposure by not using products containing them, but they are impossible to avoid.

California Gov. Gavin Newsome signed legislation on Oct. 5 banning chemicals known as PFAS in “juvenile products.”

Juvenile products are intended for babies and children under 12 years old, according to the bill, and include cribs, booster seats, and changing pads, among other items.

But the new law would exclude children’s electronic products, medical devices, internal components of products that would not ordinarily come into contact with a child’s skin or mouth, and adult mattresses.

PFAS are of concern because of their effects on human health and persistence in the environment.

The new law is intended to limit children’s exposure to these hazardous substances.

The ban is set to take effect on July 1, 2023.

It will apply to new items and will require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative available.

According to Keith Vorst, PhD, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University, PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals that have a wide variety of uses in consumer and industrial products.

“They consist of fluorinated bonds that have excellent properties that prevent degradation of industrial and chemical products,” explained Vorst, “and thus provide extended shelf-life and oil/grease and water repellency.”

According to Rainer Lohmann, PhD, a professor of oceanography at The University of Rhode Island, one of PFAS’ main uses has been in fuel-fire fighting foam (aqueous film forming foam or AFFF).

They have also been used to make fluoropolymers like Teflon and Scotchgard-based products, he said.

They are often used in children’s products to provide stain and water resistance.

Lohmann said high levels of exposure to PFAS has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer and high cholesterol.

Background exposure has been shown to have adverse effects on the immune system and has been associated with insulin resistance and obesity, he said.

Vorst further added that these chemicals have high toxicity and have been linked to hormone disruption, thyroid disease, and high blood pressure.

PFAS are additionally harmful because they are “forever chemicals.”

“The carbon-fluorine bond is among the strongest bonds,” said Lohmann, “and it is not easily or quickly broken down naturally.

“So all PFAS that are fully fluorinated (all hydrogens have been replaced by fluorine) are not going to break down quickly or naturally in any significant quantity.”

The result is that PFAS can persist in the environment for a long time. PFAS like PFOA and PFOS will not naturally degrade in the environment at all.

In addition, PFAS can accumulate in body tissues over time. Toxins that build up in the body faster than they can be eliminated can have severe effects on health.

Lohmann said that avoiding PFAS is “slightly tricky.”

But the most obvious way to avoid exposure is to stay away from products that contain them, he said. In particular, he pointed to water-proof or stain-resistant textiles and clothing.

Other common uses for PFAS are in food-contact materials such as take-out containers, cosmetics, and no-stain sprays.

Vorst agreed that it is best to buy or use only products that are PFAS free.

He added, however, “You cannot avoid them as they are ubiquitous in products and the environment.”

“We need to continue to develop research for suitable PFAS replacement that do not impact the environment or human health,” he said.