Our indoor air can be polluted with harmful PFAS chemicals

We’re breathing PFAS.

According to a new study, indoor air is an underestimated and potentially significant source of exposure to PFAS chemicals. Scientists concluded this after detecting indoor air is an underestimated and potentially significant source of exposure to PFAS. And the surprising fact is the levels are as high as those measured at an outdoor clothing company and carpet stores selling PFAS-treated products.

PFAS are known to cause serious health harms, from cancer to infertility to immune system problems. They are extremely persistent in the environment or break down into extremely persistent PFAS.

Rainer Lohmann, a senior author of the study and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, said, “Food and water are known to be major sources of PFAS exposure. Our study shows that indoor air, including dust, is another source of exposure to potentially harmful forever chemicals. In fact, for children in homes or schools with old PFAS-treated carpets, inhalation maybe even more important than dust as an exposure pathway to volatile PFAS that eventually could biotransform to more persistent and harmful PFAS.”

Scientists affixed polyethylene sheet samplers to ceilings to measure volatile PFAS chemicals in the air. They measured chemicals in the nine carpeted kindergarten classrooms, one home, and the storage room of an outdoor clothing store in California; as well as two laboratories, five offices, one classroom, one storage room, and one elevator at the University of Rhode Island; and two carpet stores, also in Rhode Island.

Lead author Maya Morales-McDevitt said, “Several kindergarten classrooms and rooms at the university had higher indoor air concentrations of PFAS than the storage room of the outdoor clothing store, which was full of jackets and gear treated with PFAS. The highest concentrations were found in the two carpet stores. PFAS were formerly used as stain and water repellents in most carpets.”

“Fortunately, major retailers including The Home Depot and Lowe’s now only sell PFAS-free carpets. We believe that slowly smaller retailers will do so as well.”

One way to reduce indoor air levels of PFAS includes replacing carpets.

Tom Bruton, a co-author and senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, said, “There are still many other products that can emit volatile PFAS into indoor air, including clothing, shoes, building products, and furnishings. As long as they continue to be used in products, we’ll all be eating, drinking, and breathing PFAS.”

“We need to turn off the tap and stop all unnecessary uses of PFAS as soon as possible.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Maya E. Morales-McDevitt et al. The Air That We Breathe: Neutral and Volatile PFAS in Indoor Air. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00481

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