Part 7: PFAS: How Might Exposure Impact My Health?

On a daily basis, Angela Slitt, a STEEP – Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFAS – researcher and toxicologist, conducts laboratory experiments that help her and her team understand more how PFAS, “forever chemicals,” may be impacting human health at a cellular level.

Extensive and productive, the work is, she indicates, a mere start to the effort needed. “It’s just the beginning,” says Slitt, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island. A dizzying 4700 PFAS type chemicals require study, and even with labs like Slitt’s working steadfastly on the issue, “we’re only testing about 20.”

That’s because the work to gauge the effects that PFAS may have on our bodies is difficult to conduct, time consuming, and costly. In her lab, Slitt carries out experiments to see what happens when human-like cells – she uses manufactured cells – are introduced to PFAS, both older and newer ones.

Slitt shares her science in “Forever Chemicals: PFAS – How Might Exposure Impact My Health?” The piece is the seventh of an eight-part STEEP video shorts series, “Silent Chemicals, Loud Science,” that explores problems posed by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), explains how STEEP science is shedding light on the issues, and offers practical and positive steps for making our daily lives safer.

Her work could eventually help us to understand whether or how PFAS plays a role in human obesity and liver diseases, or the extent to which the chemicals could possibly impact the effectiveness of certain vaccines, or the birth weights of babies.

A mother herself, Slitt voices her own frustration with PFAS. She says parents want to make their own health choices for their children, but the prevalence of PFAS in our lives can almost seem to “negate” that right. These are chemicals with half-lives of three or five to eight years, she says – “a long time” for something to stay in your body, especially in cases of high or consistent exposure.

So she starts the healing at home. Slitt’s family no longer uses non-stick cookwear, and a HEPA filter vacuum is used regularly on the carpet that’s likely treated with stain-repellant. She purchases items carefully. Drinking water should be a prime focus for everyone; she is confident in her water, which is extensively tested and filtered.

Then it’s back to the lab – there’s much more to be done, for “this is a human health issue.”

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