Today, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics issued an opinion calling for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals to be restricted around the globe. PRHE has been working in partnership with FIGO and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) on efforts to interpret the science and inform ob-gyn patients about how chemicals impact pregnant women, fetal development, and newborns.
PFAS has been in the news a lot lately as policymakers wake up to the widespread contamination of PFAS in drinking water in the U.S. and around the world. However, PFAS contamination is also in food packaging, rain-resistant clothing, nonstick pans – and in people. Dangerously high levels of PFAS have been found in breastmilk, and it’s so prevalent, this family of chemicals has been found in the arctic as well as on Mt. Everest.
Evidence of links between PFAS and health effects is alarming and growing as FIGO states in its opinion. These include health problems affecting pregnant women and newborns, including high blood pressure and preeclampsia in pregnant women, lower infant birthweights, impaired kidney and immune function, alterations in the onset of puberty, and adverse effects on the development of the brain and nervous system.[i]
One of the major challenges of PFAS is that they don’t break down, lasting in the environment and human tissue for decades and are passed on from one generation to the next, thus dubbed “forever chemicals.”
What’s clear is that our current policy approach to regulating chemicals is not working. In its opinion on PFAS, FIGO recommends a new approach:
“… the conventional chemical-by-chemical management approach has been ineffective at controlling widespread exposure to this large class of persistent chemicals with known and potential hazards. Leading companies and governments have started using broader approaches to control PFAS exposure, such as targeting all PFAS within certain use categories, like carpet, food contact materials and firefighting foam. Recently, scientists proposed an even more comprehensive risk management approach that would look beyond product use categories to allow use of PFAS only if deemed essential for health or safety, or critical for the functioning of society, and also for which there are no safer available alternatives that are technically and economically feasible. Using this framework, several European countries recently announced developing plans to phase out all non-essential PFAS uses by 2030.”
As FIGO Reproductive Developmental Environmental Health Committee Chair Professor Linda Giudice, MD, (and PRHE co-founder) states:
“The FIGO Committee on Reproductive and Developmental Health (RDEH) advocates for minimizing or eliminating exposures to toxics with potential to cause harm to human health broadly and to human development and reproductive health in particular. We strongly endorse the principle that ‘When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.’ Persistent (“forever”) chemicals in the environment, such as PFAS, last generations, and so prevention is paramount.”
We share the latest science in our PFAS infographic and fact sheet, which can be viewed and downloaded at: https://ucsf.box.com/v/figopfasmay2021.
PRHE applauds FIGO for this statement and encourages you to use these materials in your own work.
[i] Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians Committee Opinion on PFAS 2021