I’m after some clarification on these chemicals, are they safe to use? Are some banned elsewhere and why not banned here? I have a gas cooktop, should I immediately be throwing out my old cheaper PFOA containing non-stick fry pans?
PFOA is widely used in a variety of products including carpet and fabric treatment and sealants. Recently we have heard about its use in fire-fighting foam in this country. As well as being directly applied to products (mainly to use as a surfactant) it can be emitted from PTFE coatings of pans. The amount of PFOA detected there is quite small. The use of PFOA in PTFE pans is reducing and today many non-stick pans have no PTFE or PFOA.
PFOA is very persistent lasting for decades in the environment so it has become fairly ubiquitous. People (who may or may not use PTFE pans) have it in their blood all over the world. You could absorb small amounts of it from pans, carpets, surface sealed containers and many other sources. Whether the amount you could get from an old pan is dangerous I cannot say. This would take much research and I am not sure you would get a clear answer.
Welcome to the forum Cinphil1
I will answer the other two chemicals you asked about that @syncretic did not cover.
PFOS & PFAS were used in fire retardants, but use was totally stopped years ago. These chemicals were used at larger civilian airports and Department of Defence airports around Australian to fight aircraft fires (inluding regular emergency drills & skills training).
You may have heard about the PFAS class actions over groundwater contaminated by toxic firefighting foam settled by Federal Government. This was with some of the DoD sites, but there is continued action on civilian airports and surrounds which have also been contaminated.
The problem is that there is a discrepency between what is considered safe in Australia (much higher quantities) than overseas. There is no internationally agreed ‘safe level’ for humans for PFOS & PFAS.
Unless you are near a large civilian airport, or near a DoD airport, you are unlikely to ever be exposed to unsafe levels of PFOS or PFAS.
For civilian airports, Air Services Australia is keeping information very close to its chest and as the DoD did saying there is no issue, so you are unlikely to find anything online. If you do live near one of these airports, make enquiries with the local community representative groups who should be able to advise you if it is an issue there.
It’s worth qualifying. Some business operations also maintained stocks of fire fighting foam materials as part of their first response strategies. To meet needs these businesses also carried out live training exercises. There is the possibility there are other smaller sites that have been exposed. Whether in practice all such sites have been identified and placed on a register?
Just to clarify some information here… PFAS is an umbrella term (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) for over 5,000 chemicals (US EPA). So PFOA, PFOS, PTFE, etc. are all PFAS. As has been stated, PFAS has been used in fire-fighting foam, non-stick utensils, Scotchguard etc. because they are excellent at repelling oil, grease etc. A number of these chemicals are no longer manufactured such as PFOS and PFOA which were used in firefighting foams and (old) non-stick cookware. Unfortunately they are rather stable and resist breaking down when released into the environment. They also bioaccumulate (as do many PFAS chemicals), meaning they can increase in concentration up the food chain, especially in fish (some PFAS chemicals can be uptaken by plants via their root systems) and more importantly, increasing evidence is accumulating of negative health affects in humans.
I’m not sure Meltan’s statement can be made about dangerous exposure levels of PFAS is limited to large airports and DoD sites.
There is almost certainly PFAS contamination around any fire station that has used these foams in the past (simply by washing out hoses equipment etc.). They absolutely do exist at some suburban Sydney stations. Any airport with firefighting capabilities. Any company that has historical use of PFAS, potentially has likely released it into the environment at some level. I say this not as an alarmist or that there is a conspiracy to suppress this “knowledge” but as an environmental scientist, my job involves dealing with soil and water contamination (usually in industrial settings). I find it everywhere when I sample either soil or water (usually water) at locations with known historical use (the downstream locations as well). PFAS is highly miscible (i.e. mixes with water). Some levels are high, over four times the permitted level at one site I recently worked on (allowable levels of contamination in industrial settings are always set higher than for residential). Once in soil, if it comes into contact with water, is likely to reach the water table and can travel a long distances (there are environmental factors that can hinder PFAS movement such as soil type).
The newer PFAS chemicals, meant to replace the older, we are told are safer, I don’t know if that advice will change. There is much we don’t know about the long term health effects of PFAS on humans or the environment. The list of present uses is long. There is no international agreement on ‘safe’ levels of exposure (Aust is higher than some other countries). PFAS is hard to remove from the environment, with remediation of impacted soil / water currently very expensive. I know of some research that uses specific microbe communities to breakdown different PFAS chemicals. This is very promising but early in research and development.