Study links common foods to elevated PFAS levels in humans, raising health concerns

Research finds coffee, eggs, white rice, and seafood contribute to higher concentrations of harmful ‘forever chemicals.’

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A new study has found that common foods like coffee, eggs, white rice, and seafood are linked to higher levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the human body. This research, involving 3,000 pregnant women, highlights significant sources of PFAS exposure through diet and raises concerns about the widespread presence of these harmful chemicals.

PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are a class of about 16,000 compounds used to make products that resist water, stains, and heat. They do not naturally break down and accumulate in humans, posing various health risks, including cancer, birth defects, liver and thyroid diseases, and declining sperm counts.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, checked plasma and breast milk samples from 3,000 pregnant women. It is among the first research to suggest that coffee and white rice may be contaminated at higher rates than other foods. The findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Megan Romano, a Dartmouth researcher and lead author of the study, emphasized the pervasive nature of PFAS. “The results definitely point toward the need for environmental stewardship and keeping PFAS out of the environment and food chain,” she said. “Now we’re in a situation where they’re everywhere and are going to stick around even if we do aggressive remediation.”

The study identified several foods associated with higher PFAS levels, including coffee, eggs, white rice, seafood, and red meat, specifically linked to PFOS, one of the most common and dangerous PFAS compounds. The contamination routes for these foods vary. For instance, PFAS in rice might come from contaminated soil or agricultural water. In coffee, the beans, water used for brewing, or filters could be the source. For eggs, contamination might come from table scraps fed to backyard chickens or PFAS-fouled sewage sludge used as fertilizer.

Researchers noted that seafood often contains PFAS due to widespread water pollution. The study’s findings underscore the chemicals’ ubiquity and the many ways they can end up in the food supply.

Public health advocates argue that a ban on non-essential uses of PFAS is necessary to address the problem. Romano noted that diets high in fruits, whole grains, and dietary fiber were associated with lower levels of some PFAS. She recommended a varied diet to minimize exposure risks. “That helps you not only reduce your exposure to PFAS but other contaminants we might anticipate are in food,” she explained.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has faced criticism for its handling of PFAS contamination in food. Critics accuse the FDA of failing to protect the nation’s food supply, partly by altering testing methods to downplay the presence of PFAS. Effective regulation and environmental stewardship are essential to prevent these chemicals from entering the food chain.

Historical corporate actions have also contributed to the problem. Companies like 3M, which developed and manufactured many PFAS compounds, knew about their dangerous accumulation in human blood but concealed this information.

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