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The Facts About PFAS and COVID-19

Tom Flanagin

Despite what has been claimed, there is no scientific consensus that exposure to certain PFAS interfere with immune response. While one research team has reported an association between levels of one PFAS (PFBA) and the severity of COVID-19 response, the results of that research have not even been peer reviewed. While the study has not been made available for review, it is not clear that the researchers considered the contribution of underlying health problems that are known to contribute to the severity of the response to COVID-19 infection.

Other researchers have not observed associations between PFAS and reduced immune response.  In the largest study[1] of an exposed population, researchers reported no association between exposure to PFOA, which has been substantially studied, and response to an influenza vaccine in a group of 411 adults in West Virginia. Both Health Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have also questioned whether small variations in antibody levels reported in some studies are sufficient to result in adverse health effects in humans.

PFAS (or Fluorotechnology) are a large and diverse universe of chemistries. Each has its own unique structure, uses and environmental and health profiles. It is very concerning that some are lumping all PFAS together as though they are one chemistry. The failure to acknowledge the significant uncertainty surrounding the claims that PFAS exposure affects vaccine effectiveness makes this concern even more troubling.  This results in a perception that is misleading and inaccurate, especially as it relates to the discussion of COVID-19.

In the time of a global pandemic, with so much fear and uncertainty, it is reckless and disappointing to see anyone who calls themselves a member of the scientific community engaging in fearmongering. Our products in use today have been approved through rigorous regulatory review, and in fact are used in many essential medical applications in the fight against COVID-19.

For instance, PFAS technology is being used in COVID-19 testing equipment and in the production of ventilators. Another type of PFAS technology is being used in medical garments, hospital gowns, drapes and divider curtains to create a barrier that provides life-saving protection against infections and transmission of diseases in hospitals. In fact, products of chemistry account for more than 25 percent of the material inputs to make life-saving medical equipment, and a full 75 percent of the value of vital cleaning and disinfecting compounds. With some types of PFAS being used to help save lives around the world in the midst of this pandemic, these accusations actually do a disservice to overall public health.

PFOA and PFOS have long been voluntarily phased out by our members in the US, Europe and Japan. Other PFAS chemistries in use today have been fully approved for use by various regulatory agencies in the US and Europe, including by the U.S. EPA and the FDA.

Our member companies are dedicated to the responsible production, use, and management of PFAS chemistries in a manner that protects the public health and our environment. We will continue to engage with lawmakers and regulators on this important issue and support strong, science based chemical regulations that are protective of the safety of human health and the environment.

[1]Looker C et al. Influenza vaccine response in adults exposed to perfluorooctanoate and perfluorooctanesulfonate. Toxicol Sci 138: 76–88 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kft269

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $486 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for ten percent of all U.S. goods exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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