Cancer-linked “forever chemicals” are contaminating a broad assortment of pet food packaging and textiles made for babies and toddlers, a new investigation has found.
These toxins — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are common ingredients in children’s and pet product coatings, and can wear off as dust over time, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization.
While these coatings aren’t being directly ingested, exposure to dust can be problematic to populations who spend a lot of time on the floor, researchers from the group explained. They therefore commissioned a series of independent lab tests to determine just how pervasive this issue might be.
“It’s almost impossible to avoid PFAS, because as these tests confirm, they’re prevalent in all aspects of our daily lives,” project leader Sydney Evans, a science analyst at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.
Notorious for their presence in industrial discharge and firefighting foam, PFAS are found in a variety of household products, including food packaging, nonstick pans and stain-resistant fabrics.
Scientists have linked PFAS exposure to many illnesses, including thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
With regards to children’s textiles, the lab tests found that bedding contained the highest content of total fluorine, which is an initial marker for possible PFAS presence.
But total fluorine was detected in all 34 samples taken, which also included products like bibs, changing pads, clothing, nursing pillows, outerwear, pacifier clips, playmats and activity gyms, snack bags and soft toys, according to the study.
Other categories with the highest fluorine concentrations including bibs, outerwear and snack bags, the tests revealed.
The researchers then tested the 10 products — three types of bedding, two types of bibs, three pieces of clothing and a single snack bag — that had the highest concentrations of fluorine 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 most frequently identified types of PFAS in all 10 products were PEPA, PFBA, PFHxA and PPF acid, according to the study.
The PFAS-contaminated products came from a wide range of well-known consumer brands, including Graco, Sealy Baby, Bumkins, Hudson Baby, Columbia, UGG and Carters.
“Although it’s understandable parents would want the convenience of waterproof and stain-repellent products for babies and toddlers, who are constantly making messes, PFAS coatings aren’t necessary,” Evans said.
“Without regulation of PFAS uses or requirements for labeling, it’s nearly impossible for parents to shop their way out of this crisis – and they shouldn’t be responsible for doing that, in any event,” she added.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year tightened its drinking health water advisories for the two most well-known types of PFAS — PFOS and PFOA — these levels are recommendations, rather than enforceable regulations.
As far as pet products are concerned, an independent laboratory tested 11 bags of pet food for total fluorine, and the four bags with the highest concentrations of fluorine were tested for specific PFAS compounds.
Within the cat food category, Meow Mix Tender Centers Salmon & Chicken Flavors Dry Cat Food had the highest total fluorine content, while further tests indicated the presence of two types of PFAS, the tests found.
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 flavor had the highest total fluorine content and contained two types of PFAS. Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe also contained one type of PFAS, per the tests.
Animals age faster than humans and may develop health issues from chemical exposures more rapidly, according to a 2008 study from 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 pet food bags represent a significant source of PFAS in the home,” she said. “They’re a good indicator of how much PFAS may eventually be released into the environment after these coatings wear down.”