Even if you haven’t heard of “forever chemicals”, you’ve probably encountered them in your day-to-day life. Found in everyday items from non-stick pans to eye makeup, experts are realizing that forever chemicals are more dangerous than we thought.

“Forever chemicals do not cause us immediate harm but, over time, they can have a cumulative effect on the body,” explains Andrew Wong, MD, primary care provider for the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Westport.

Dr. Wong weighs in on the dangers of forever chemicals and ways to avoid them.

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Where can you find forever chemicals?

These chemicals are used to make products non-sticky and promote stain resistance, says Dr. Wong. They can be found in such everyday items as:

  • Non-stick cookware
  • Glide dental floss
  • Take-out packaging
  • Eye makeup
  • Cleaning products
  • Microwave popcorn bags
  • Water- or stain-resistant fabric clothing and furniture

“PFAs have been around since the 1940s, but they’re used much more now,” Dr. Wong says.

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Water – and the fish that live in it – can contain forever chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed regulations to limit the level of these man-made chemicals in drinking water to curb harm to humans.

“These chemicals take about 1,000 years to degrade, so they’re in our water and soil. In the body, they build up. As little as .02 parts per trillion can affect us,” Dr. Wong explains.

The EPA proposes limiting forever chemicals in drinking water to no more than 4 parts per trillion. Connecticut doesn’t measure forever chemicals, but he says it’s safe to assume drinking water here is over the maximum levels as it is in neighboring states that measure them.

And because forever chemicals leach into the ground and water, some fish now contain them.

Bottled water may be affected too.

In addition, while the EPA targets tap water, he says testing of bottled water brands shows many with higher than recommended PFA levels. Information on each is available online, but he cites Poland Springs, Aquafina and the Walmart store brand as within safe limits.

“Interestingly enough, the Whole Foods brand water is not within safe PFA guidelines,” he says.

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Human harm

According to the EPA, forever chemicals are more harmful to humans than previously believed.

“These are now considered toxic substances,” Dr. Wong says.

Evidence over time, he says, shows that PFAs can lead to general conditions such as:

  • Compromised immune systems
  • Heart disease
  • Trouble controlling cholesterol
  • Cancer
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Decreased fertility
  • Delayed fetal advancement and newborn development
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

How to avoid forever chemicals

Being aware of where these chemicals are used is a step to limiting cumulative exposure to them, he continues.

“This is something that has an effect over our lifetime, and it’s important to monitor. We’re learning more about the longer cause and effect of lifestyle choices,” Dr. Wong says.

He recommends these tips to avoid forever chemicals:

  • Install filters on household faucets. Certain types filter out PFAs.
  • Avoid food packaging. While skipping takeout might be a challenge, Dr. Wong suggests transferring food from takeout containers to glass ones at home to avoid PFAs leaching into your food. At the least, do not reheat leftovers in takeout containers.
  • Switch from non-stick pans to iron or stainless steel.
  • Check labels. Look for words beginning with fluoro or perfluoro.

If you’re concerned, Dr. Wong suggest talking with your primary care physician about testing for inflammation in the liver, which is where PFAs accumulate in the body.