Pediatrician talks about possible health impacts from PFAS chemicals

“When you start to learn about this, it starts to give you the heebie-jeebies.”
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:59 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - While there are still more questions than answers about the overall health impacts of PFAS chemicals on our bodies, health experts are working to nail down what some of the long-term impacts might be.

“When you start to learn about this, it starts to give you the heebie-jeebies,” Dr. Soren Johnson, a pediatrician with Novant Health, said.

As officials and organizations work to eliminate PFAS or forever chemicals from our drinking water, health experts are keeping an eye on the impact of forever chemicals. Dr. Johnson says while we should be worried about our drinking water, PFAS are present in a growing number of everyday items and that’s concerning for people like young kids or pregnant women.

“Don’t buy nonstick stuff. If you’re looking or in the market for a new couch, maybe you think twice before getting that stain-resistant fabric because it’s going to have one of these types of compounds in it,” Dr. Johnson said. “And similarly for other applications where, we typically think ‘Oh yeah, that sounds great, like a super-duper raincoat that repels everything.’ Well, you may want to think twice about that kind of purchase. So, we need more consumer awareness about that.”

Some fast-food wrappers, to-go containers, and even carpets can also contain these compounds.

Now, they’re starting to get an idea of how forever chemicals impact human health.

“The things that have been most strongly linked are impaired growth of fetuses. So, problems with fetal development [and] it’s been thyroid disease, thyroid problems, liver and kidney issues have been connected with this also,” Dr. Johnson said. “There’s also a number of cancer types [that] seem to be maybe loosely associated with it. So, breast [cancer], prostate cancer, testicular cancer, those are a few of the ones.”

Dr. Johnson says researchers are making progress because our bodies can’t break down forever chemicals.

“It’s slower to get that data and that evidence has to collect and build up over time to make it convincing where you realize, okay, this compound really is causing XYZ illness,” Dr. Johnson said. “That’s probably the take-home message is we know these are impacting tissues, it’s probably going to have an effect. So, it’s more a question of, how do we determine what is a safe level of exposure, or how can we eliminate them entirely and just find a different way to, you know, achieve the same results we’re looking for in our stain-resistant carpets?”

Dr. Johnson also suggested getting a water filter for your tap if you have kids at home.