A dangerous substance found in homes across the world poses a serious threat to cats. It’s not the subject of a recall. It’s not even found in their food.
Worst of all, there’s little pet owners can do to keep their cats away from it.
per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS or PFCs, are used in food packaging, stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics, and nonstick cookware. Firefighters even use them to put out fires.
“PFAS are a family of more than 3,000 structures of highly fluorinated chemicals used in industrial processes and consumer products, such as protective coatings for carpets, furniture and apparel, paper coatings, insecticide formulations, and other items,” Science Daily reports.
The problem is, due to a lack of oversight and care in storage facilities, as well as their ubiquitous application on common household products, they’re now a part of the air we breathe, the dust that gathers on our countertops and floors, the food we eat, the soil we walk on, and the water we drink.
Cats never asked for any of this, and it’s leading to rampant cases of hyperthyroidism in domestic pets around the country.
Researchers from the California Environmental Protection Agency tested PFAS levels in two groups of cats from Northern California. One group was tested between 2008 and 2010, while the second was tested between 2012 and 2013.
Hyperthyroidism was more common in the cats with elevated levels of PFAS in their bloodstream. The discovery does not lend a definitive cause and effect to the chemicals, just a “possible link,” the researchers wrote, noting that one substance, perfluorooctanoic acid, offered the strongest evidence of that link.
Without any context, the outlook for modern cat parents may seem grim, but many companies have been curbing their use of PFAS, particularly after the Minnesota-based 3M corporation was sued by the State of Michigan for allowing these substances to leech into the soil and waterways.
If that trend continues, cats will face less of a threat from PFAS in the future, as the California Environmental Protection Agency found between its two studies.
What can you do?
The Environmental Working Group offers a number of steps to take that can limit your pets’ exposure to PFAS and PFCs:
- Find products that haven’t been pre-treated and skip optional stain-repellent treatment on new carpets and furniture
- Cut back on fast food and greasy carryout food, since these foods often come in PFC-treated wrappers
- Especially when buying outdoor gear, choose clothing that doesn’t carry Gore-Tex or Teflon tags, and be wary of all fabrics labeled stain- or water-repellent
- Avoid nonstick pans and kitchen utensils — opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead
- Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stovetop, since microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFCs on the inside
- Choose personal care products without “PTFE” or “fluoro” ingredients; also avoid Oral-B Glide floss, which is made by Gore-Tex
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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