Asked & Answered: PFAS Q&A with Kyla Bennett - Modern Farmer

Asked & Answered: PFAS Q&A with Kyla Bennett

PFAS expert Kyla Bennett answers Modern Farmer reader questions about forever chemicals.

A sign cautioning people about PFAS.
Humans can be exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways, including water, clothing, food packaging and cookware.
Photography by Jeppe Gustafsson, Shutterstock

This story is part of our ongoing PFAS series, The PFAS Problem: Demystifying ‘Forever Chemicals’

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals that are used commercially for their nonstick or waterproof properties. The problem is that they don’t readily break down and have been associated with harmful health conditions. Today, these chemicals can be found everywhere. As a result of both direct chemical pollution from manufacturing facilities and exposure through everyday household items, PFAS can be in our water, soil and even the blood of most Americans

In our previous PFAS coverage, we’ve brought you in-depth looks at the efforts to regulate PFAS, stories of communities on the frontlines trying to protect themselves, as well as consumer guides for how to reduce your own exposure. 

Through these stories, we connected with Kyla Bennett, science policy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Bennett is a PFAS expert and knows this issue inside and out. Last week, we asked you, our Modern Farmer community, what questions you had for Bennett, and you delivered big time. Below, find our community questions with Bennett’s responses.

Modern Farmer: Who is most at risk for PFAS exposure?

Kyla Bennett: We are all at risk because PFAS is so ubiquitous, but fenceline communities (i.e., people living immediately adjacent to industries using PFAS, Department of Defense facilities, firefighting training facilities, conventional farms using biosolids and airports) are likely exposed to higher levels of PFAS than the rest of us. Moreover, infants, children, the elderly and pregnant people are at higher risk as well.

MF: Who profits from forever chemicals? Please name the companies.

KB: The top 12 companies responsible for most of PFAS pollution are: AGC, Arkema, Chemours, Daikin, 3M, Solvay, Dongyue, Archroma, Merck, Bayer, BASF and Honeywell. 

Learn more: PFAS is used in everything from nonstick pans to makeup. Use Food & Water Watch’s consumer guide to avoid PFAS in the marketplace.

MF: We hear that PFAS are harmful to human health, but what kind of specific health issues are they associated with?

KB: PFAS cause a variety of health impacts, including thyroid disease, high cholesterol, lowered immune response, obesity, developmental issues, heart disease and cancer, especially kidney and testicular cancer.

Read more: PFAS have been linked to numerous health conditions, and the science is still evolving. Read about what we know.

MF: Are there any known commercial products that filter out PFAS in our drinking water that consumers can purchase on store shelves? 

KB: The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF, certifies filters that remove PFAS from drinking water. The NSF website has a list of certified filters that anyone can purchase.

MF: What is the best way to find out if my water has been tested?

KB: Many states require municipalities to test drinking water for PFAS. Moreover, the EPA is also requiring public water systems to test for PFAS over the next few years. If you are on town/city water, the best thing to do is reach out to your water department and ask them for any PFAS test results (although many of these are available online). Note that private well testing is done by well owners, so there is far less information on PFAS in private wells. 

People assume that is something's legal, it's safe. And that's simply not true. Modern Farmers PFAS reporting is strengthened by the expertize of organizations like PEER. To connect with PEER click here

MF: Where can we send soil and water samples for testing?

KB: There are many commercial labs around the country that do PFAS testing. Look for a lab that is accredited by the EPA. However, this testing can be very expensive. There are some at home test kits available for water testing, but be aware that these are not accredited by the EPA. 

Your closest lab will vary depending on where you are located. Search based on your state or region. For example, this lab will test soil and water samples in the Northeast US region.

The What’s My Exposure? tool through the PFAS Exchange will help you contextualize your water test results by comparing them to others.

Close up of a soil sample.

You can have your soil samples tested for PFAS. (Photography by Shutterstock)

MF: If the new drinking water PFAS limits put the burden for monitoring mostly on the municipalities and not directly on the polluters (companies), will that have an impact on my personal taxes? Am I paying the cost of these continued polluters?

KB: When municipalities construct water filtration, those costs are often shifted to the consumers (through higher water rates, etc.). However, many towns and cities have joined class action lawsuits suing PFAS manufacturers to try and recoup some of that money. 

Read more: Chemical Manufacturing Giant 3M to Pay $10 billion to Clean Up ‘Forever Chemicals.’ Critics Say That’s Not Enough.

MF: Companies know that PFAS cause health issues and don’t break down. They’ve paid out huge settlements. How are companies still allowed to produce them?

KB: Unfortunately, the EPA only regulates six PFAS in drinking water, and the states that regulate PFAS also only regulate a handful. The chemical industry has a very rich and powerful lobby. Contact your state and federal representative and urge them to define PFAS broadly and regulate them as a class. 

Take action: You can use this bill tracker from Safer States to find out what states have either introduced or enacted legislation to ban PFAS.

MF: Are there non-toxic alternatives or methods these companies could use instead of PFAS? 

KB: The vast majority of PFAS uses are for convenience and are not essential uses. Industry is coming up with alternatives to PFAS, and there are lists of PFAS-free consumer products, including for items like rain gear! You can view that list here.

MF: How might the momentum on PFAS regulation be impacted by the upcoming election season? Is there anything I should be considering or looking for when casting my vote?

KB: The previous federal administration was much more industry-friendly than the current administration. The EPA’s new drinking water regulations, which came out in April of this year, were a good but small step forward. It is important to research local, state and federal candidates and ensure that they have public health and the environment in mind. Vote for the candidates whose values align most closely with your own.

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8 days ago

“ After all, the same land vital to protecting threatened plants or wildlife may also be important for growing food.”
Questionable concept- from kala