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For years stores and manufacturers have promoted the advantages of Scotchgard and Teflon nonstick coatings for pots and pans, as stain-proofing for upholstered furniture and rugs, as a water repellent for clothing, for consumer goods such as dental floss, and for grease-proof food wrappers and containers. And yes, people have been convinced - with most cookware sold today being of the nonstick type, and the popularity of sofas and rugs coated with non-stain coatings. But once again, chemicals come with a price and health effects, and unfortunately these particular chemicals are found in all of us in varying levels.

Polyfluoriated chemicals (PFCs) are a class of chemicals that are stain, water, and grease repellent chemicals.They have been found in the blood of more than 98% of the United States population. PFCs stay in the environment and body for many years (thus labeled as "persistent"). Some PFCs: perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS, perfluorononanoic acid or PFNA, and perfluorohexane sulfonate or PFHxS.

PFOA was used to make DuPont's popular Teflon coating for decades. DuPont phased out its PFOA production after a settlement with federal regulators (it was linked it to birth defects and cancer in animals). But meanwhile PFOA spread worldwide, and traces of the compound have been found in most people, in polar bears in the Arctic, in some drinking water, and even in some fish. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. They are considered hazardous even in small doses, they accumulate, and have been linked to all sorts of medical problems, from developmental delays in the fetus and child, to immune problems, kidney disease, kidney and testicular cancers, and to thyroid disease.

And once again, as some chemicals are phased out, the replacement chemicals may be just as bad. One group of replacement chemicals is perfluoroalkyl sulfonate (PFAS). Experts worry that this new group of PFASs has many of the same troubling characteristics as their predecessors, because of the chemical similarities with the original chemicals. But we won't know for years, because once again the necessary health tests have not been done.

What can you do to avoid PFCs? 1) Do not use Teflon or non-stick pots, pans, and utensils. Use stainless steel or cast iron instead. 2) Avoid Scotchgard or other stain-proofing or stain-resistant treatments on upholstered furniture or rugs. 3) Avoid jackets, rain gear, or other clothing with "water resistant" or "stain resistant" treatments. 4) Try to cut back on foods that come in "grease-proof" containers. Don't use microwave popcorn bags. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead (such as Toms of Maine floss). 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro.

From Medscape: Prenatal Exposure to Household Chemicals Hurts Kids' Cognition

Exposure to common household chemicals such as those found in nonstick cooking pans, upholstery, carpet pads, and electronics during pregnancy may lead to poorer cognitive and behavioral development during childhood, new research shows.

In an analysis of more than 250 mother-child pairs, maternal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) was associated with impairments in executive function in children aged 5 and 8 years. "These findings suggest that concentrations of maternal serum PBDEs and PFASs during pregnancy may be associated with poorer executive function in school-age children," the investigators, with first author Ann Vuong, DrPH,...."Given that the persistence of PBDEs and PFASs has resulted in detectable serum concentrations worldwide, the observed deficits in executive function may have a large impact at the population level," they add.

In-unit increases in PFOS levels were associated with worse behavior regulation, poorer metacognition, and poorer global executive functioning. No link was found between PFOA levels and executive function. Dr Vuong told Medscape Medical News that although the majority of PBDEs and PFASs have been phased out of products, there is an ongoing risk of exposure."It's in the environment, and probably it's that people have already purchased products within their homes, and everyone has [PBDEs] in their bodies. So the only way to reduce the body burden or exposure is through cleaning methods," she said.

For PBDEs, it is recommended that people regularly use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in their vacuum and that they wipe down surfaces and regularly wash their hands. "For PFASs, it's recommended that you try not to, or limit your use of, microwaved fast food packaging, as well as trying not to use deteriorated pans with nonstick coatings," Dr Vuong added....Although reducing exposure to substances with known neurodevelopmental and cognitive risks is important, Dr Vuong emphasized that the chemicals have been replaced by novel compounds, some of which may carry their own risks.

UPDATE: 2 new articles discussing this issue: New Teflon Toxin Causes Cancer in Lab Animals and How Dupont Concealed the Dangers of the New Teflon Toxin

Flame retardants. All around us, and in us. So, so hard to avoid because they're in electronic goods, in upholstered furniture, polyurethane foam, carpet pads, some textiles, the foam in baby items, house dust, building insulation, and on and on. And unfortunately, while a number of toxic flame retardants have been phased out, it appears that the new replacements may be just as bad and are more easily inhaled (the small particles go down the air tract and into the lung tissue).

What to do? Wash hands before eating. Try to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Try to avoid products that say they contain "flame retardants". Only buy upholstered furniture with tags that say they are flame retardant free. From Environmental Health News:

As Washington state decides on stronger toxics law, residents are breathing flame retardants

A new generation of chemicals added to furniture, building insulation and baby products like car seats to slow the spread of flames are escaping into air at higher levels than previously thought, according to a new study out of Washington state. The findings come as Washington lawmakers decide on bolstering flame retardant bans. The state was one of the first to ban an earlier generation of retardants, known as PBDEs.

The new research found flame retardant chemicals used to replace polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also escape, are ubiquitous in indoor air and suggest inhalation is a major route of exposure for people. The compounds, called chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, found in the study have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, and some can alter hormones essential for development. “We’ve been underestimating what total exposure is,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the study published this month in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

Researchers gave 10 people from Washington state an air sampler that simulates breathing to wear during a normal day: office work, commuting, hanging out at home. They tested for a suite of the new generation of chlorinated flame retardants and found all 10 were breathing some amount of them throughout the day. Exposure to one of the most prevalent compounds was up to 30 times greater than ingesting the chemicals via dust. The distinction is important: dust exposure occurs largely through the mouth, previously thought to be the major exposure route for banned PBDEs.

Chlorinated flame retardants are used mostly in polyurethane foam, often in building insulation and everyday products such as furniture, children’s car seats and baby strollers. The compounds are substitutes for PBDEs, which were widely used as flame retardants until scientists reported they were building up in people and wildlife and various bans took hold.

While chlorinated flame retardants have been around for decades, Salamova said scientists have recently started to understand them as, at first, it was thought they weren’t harmful or able to accumulate in people and wildlife. However there is evidence the replacement are following the same path as PBDEs: chlorinated flame retardants have been found in household dust, children’s products, drinking water, and mother-toddlers pairsTwo chlorinated flame retardants have been flagged by the state of California as carcinogens, and animal research suggests they may hamper brain development as well. 

From Medical Xpress: Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to poorer behavioral function in children

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests that prenatal exposure to flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) commonly found in the environment may have a lasting effect on a child's cognitive and behavioral development, known as executive function...."We examined the relationship between prenatal exposure to PBDEs and PFASs and executive function in children at 5 and 8 years of age," said Ann Vuong, DrPH, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Environmental Health. "The findings suggest that maternal serum concentrations of PBDEs and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), one of the most commonly found PFASs in human blood, may be associated with poorer executive functioning in school-age children."

From Science Daily: Exposure to common flame retardants may contribute to attention problems in children

Prenatal exposure to some flame retardants that have been widely-used in consumer products is associated with attention problems in young children. A new study is the first to show the effects of prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers on children's development at ages 3, 4, and 7 years. Children with the highest exposure to certain PBDEs had approximately twice the number of maternally-reported attention problems compared to the other children in the study. PBDEs are found in textiles, plastics, wiring, and furniture containing polyurethane foam to reduce flammability.

Very nice and thorough report about flame retardants written in 2013 by the highly regarded center EHHI (Environment and Human Health, Inc.): FLAME RETARDANTS THE CASE FOR POLICY CHANGE