Cancer-linked “forever chemicals” are contaminating a wide variety of pet food and textile packaging made for babies and young children, new research has found.
These toxins (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) are common ingredients in coatings on children’s and pet products, and can disappear as dust over time, according to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.
While these coatings are not directly ingested, dust exposure can be problematic for populations that spend a lot of time on the floor, the group’s researchers explained. Therefore, they commissioned a series of independent laboratory tests to determine how widespread this problem might be.
“PFAS are almost impossible to avoid because, as these tests confirm, they are prevalent in all aspects of our daily lives,” project leader Sydney Evans, a scientific analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.
PFAS, known for their presence in industrial discharge and firefighting foams, are found in a variety of household products, including food packaging, nonstick pans, and stain-resistant fabrics.
Scientists have linked PFAS exposure to many diseases, including thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer.
As for children’s textiles, the Lab tests found that bedding contained the highest total fluoride content, which is an early marker for the possible presence of PFAS.
But total fluoride was detected in all 34 samples taken, which also included products such as bibs, changing pads, clothing, nursing pillows, outerwear, pacifier clips, play mats and activity gyms, snack bags and soft toys, according to the study.
Other categories with the highest fluoride concentrations include bibs, outerwear and snack bags, the tests revealed.
The researchers then tested the 10 products (three types of bedding, two types of bibs, three clothing items, and a single snack bag) that had the highest concentrations of fluoride for specific types of PFAS.
They said they found detectable levels of PFAS in all 10 products and an average of 17 different PFAS compounds, of which there are thousands, in each item.
The types of PFAS most frequently identified in the 10 products were PEPA, PFBA, PFHxA and PPF acid, according to the study.
The PFAS-contaminated products were from a wide range of well-known consumer brands, including Graco, Sealy Baby, Bumkins, Hudson Baby, Columbia, UGG and Carters.
“While parents understandably want the convenience of waterproof and stain-repellent products for babies and toddlers, who constantly mess, PFAS coatings aren’t necessary,” Evans said.
“Without regulation of PFAS uses or requirements for labeling, it is almost impossible for parents to buy out of this crisis and, in any case, they should not be responsible for doing so,” he added.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year toughened its drinking water health advisories for the two most well-known types of PFAS, PFOS and PFOA, these levels are recommendations, rather than applicable regulations.
For pet products, an independent laboratory tested 11 bags of pet food for total fluoride, and the four bags with the highest concentrations of fluoride were analyzed for specific PFAS compounds.
Within the cat food category, Meow Mix Tender Centers Salmon & Chicken Flavors Dry Cat Food had the highest total fluoride content, while other tests indicated the presence of two types of PFAS, according to the tests.
Purina Cat Chow was also contaminated with six types of PFAS, according to the study.
Among dog food products, Kibbles n’ Bits Bacon and Steak had the highest total fluoride content and contained two types of PFAS. Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula puppy chicken and brown rice recipe also contained a type of PFAS, according to tests.
Animals age faster than humans and can develop health problems from chemical exposure more quickly, according to a 2008 study of the Environmental Working Group.
But Evans stressed that contamination in pet food packaging can also pose a potential threat to human cohabitants.
“The concentrations of PFAS found in bags of pet food represent a significant source of PFAS in the home,” he said. “They are a good indicator of the amount of PFAS that will eventually be released into the environment after these coatings wear off.”