WASHINGTON – The toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS have been found in pet food packaging and textile products made for babies and toddlers, according to new Environmental Working Group test results.
“It’s almost impossible to avoid PFAS, because as these tests confirm, they’re prevalent in all aspects of our daily lives,” said Sydney Evans, a science analyst at EWG who led the project. “The PFAS coating on these products wears off and gets into dust that can be ingested by children and pets.”
Contact with this dust is a significant concern for pets and very young children, who spend a lot of time on or near the floor and explore the world through their mouths. The effects of PFAS exposure pose even greater concern for infants and toddlers than for adults, because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic exposures.
The new tests show how consumer goods like pet food packaging and baby textiles contribute to the overall load of PFAS contamination of the home. These concentrations aren't being ingested directly, as with drinking water, but they are substantial sources of PFAS entering the environment.
Dust from PFAS coatings adds to household contamination and may also be inhaled by children and pets. The PFAS can pollute air and water once items are disposed in trash.
Contamination of pet food packaging
EWG commissioned an independent laboratory to test 11 bags of pet food for total fluorine, which indicates the likely presence of PFAS and is usually stated in parts per million, or ppm. Four bags with the highest concentrations of fluorine were sent for additional tests, which revealed levels of specific PFAS compounds.
The tests uncovered individual PFAS in some of the pet food bags: the chemicals PFBA, PFPeA, PFHxA, PFHpA, x62FTCA, x62diPAP and PFPrA.
For cats, Meow Mix Tender Centers Salmon & Chicken Flavors Dry Cat Food had the highest total fluorine, with 630 ppm. More tests found two PFAS at 5.5 parts per billion, or ppb. The sample of Purina Cat Chow Complete Chicken had total fluorine at 310 ppm. Additional tests revealed it was contaminated with six different PFAS at an alarming 245 ppb.
For dogs, Kibbles n’ Bits Bacon and Steak flavor registered 590 ppm of total fluorine. Additional tests found two PFAS at 14.3 ppb. Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe food had total fluorine of 140 ppm.
Total fluorine tests capture a wide variety of PFAS and serve as an important screening tool for finding PFAS-based coatings and treatments usually missed by tests for specific PFAS. These high concentrations suggest that PFAS-based treatments are being used in these products, which could eventually degrade and add to PFAS concentrations in dust.
“The concentrations of PFAS found in pet food bags represent a significant source of PFAS in the home,” said Evans. “They’re a good indicator of how much PFAS may eventually be released into the environment after these coatings wear down.”
With compressed life spans, animals mature and age about seven times faster than children. EWG has previously found that pets develop health problems from chemical exposure more rapidly.
No top pet food manufacturer has committed publicly to stop using forever chemicals in their packaging.
Forever chemicals in baby textiles
New EWG-commissioned lab tests also found PFAS in a wide variety of baby and children’s textile products, including bedding, bibs, changing pads, clothing, nursing pillows, outerwear, pacifier clips, playmats and activity gyms, snack bags and soft toys.
Total fluorine was detected in all 34 samples. Bedding contained the highest levels of total fluorine, an especially alarming finding, since infants and toddlers spend so much time in cribs. Other categories with the highest fluorine concentrations were bibs, outerwear and snack bags.
The 10 products with the highest concentrations of fluorine were further tested for specific PFAS. These included three types of bedding, two types of bibs, three pieces of clothing and a single snack bag. Detectable levels of PFAS were found in all 10 products, with an average of 17 different compounds detected in each.
The most frequently found types of PFAS in all 10 products were perfluoro-2-ethoxypropanoic acid, or PEPA; perfluorobutanoic acid, or PFBA; perfluorohexanoic acid, or PFHxA; and PPF acid.
“The safety and well-being of our children is essential,” said Evans. “Parents should be able to feel confident that the products they buy for their kids are free from toxic PFAS. It is absolutely critical that we eliminate all unnecessary exposure to this family of chemicals as soon as possible.”
A study by Toxic-Free Future reported finding total fluorine above 100 ppm in 35 of 60 products it tested, including bedding and yoga pants. Researchers at the Silent Spring Institute found PFAS are common in stain- and water-resistant products used by kids and teens. The study found pillow protectors and clothing had higher levels of PFAS than other product categories. Bedding has also been shown to contain these chemicals.
Another study recently found PFAS in school uniforms, weather-resistant outdoor wear and children’s products like hats, stroller covers, swimwear, sweatshirts and baby shoes. The levels of PFAS were like those in outerwear, which could be an important source of kids’ exposure.
Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system. These chemicals harm development and the reproductive system, such as reduced birth weight and impacts on fertility; increased risk of certain cancers; and affect metabolism, such as changes in cholesterol and weight gain.
PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and build up in our blood and organs. They are found in the blood of almost all Americans, including newborn babies. In September, EWG scientists identified 40 peer-reviewed studies published in the past five years that reported the presence of PFAS in cord blood. Because these chemicals persist in human bodies, they also can affect cognitive, lung and reproductive functions in ways that continue through childhood and adulthood.
“Companies are using PFAS indiscriminately in products for babies and children. Although it’s understandable parents would want the convenience of waterproof and stain-repellent products for babies and toddlers, who are constantly making messes, PFAS coatings aren’t necessary,” said Evans.
“Without regulation of PFAS uses or requirements for labeling, it’s nearly impossible for parents to shop their way out of this crisis – and they shouldn’t be responsible for doing that, in any event. We need to start holding companies accountable for using toxic forever chemicals in our children’s products,” she added.
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency dramatically tightened its lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious forever chemicals.
EWG has long recommended regulating PFAS chemicals as a class, because the chemical industry is adept at rapidly developing new versions of PFAS as toxicity assessments find that specific compounds are harmful.
There are no federal regulations for PFAS in many consumer products, even with substantial scientific evidence linking PFAS exposure to health harms. The EPA, Food and Drug Administration and other federal regulators should prioritize public health, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant people and babies.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.