As our State continues to grapple with the impacts of Covid-19, our elected leaders have been rightly focused on how to adequately respond to the crisis at hand. However, many do not recognize the urgent connection between toxic chemical exposure and the pandemic. For example, exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is known to potentially make it more difficult to fight against viruses like Covid-19.
PFAS have become ubiquitous in our modern world – found in wide-ranging products from pots and pans, to food packaging, and ski wax – variants of these chemicals can be found around every corner [See: The Journey of Toxic Chemicals]. The fact that many Americans have such frequent exposure to PFAS chemicals is made even more concerning given the fact that these chemicals are bioaccumulative – which means they build up in the body over time.
This past summer, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a statement on the intersection between PFAS exposure and Covid-19, which cites studies showing a correlation between exposure to PFAS and a suppression of the immune system’s ability to make antibodies – a critical component for fighting Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.
As Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, said, “PFAS can weaken our immune system, making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases like Covid-19.”
Equally concerning is the possibility for PFAS to reduce vaccine effectiveness. Nearly a dozen studies have found significant decreases in antibody production – up to 50% decrease – in people with high levels of PFAS exposure. This data included a number of vaccines such as tetanus, mumps, and the flu.
These findings raise strong concerns about the potential for PFAS exposure to impact effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine. Philippe Grandjean, who authored some of these studies, said regarding the Covid vaccine: “I would think what we’ve seen before is very likely to happen again,” and that folks with high exposure to PFAS “may need more than the 1 or 2 shots recommended…because their antibody production may be suppressed”.
Lastly, new research authored by Grandjean (currently in the process of peer-review) shows that among Covid-19 positive individuals, there is a strong positive correlation between hospitalization and/or death from Covid and high levels of a certain type of PFAS chemical (PFBA) in the body. The study showed that more than half of those that were seriously ill with Covid-19 had elevated levels of PFBA, while less than 20 percent of those with mild Covid symptoms had elevated levels of the chemical.
Exposure to PFAS chemicals can also result in the development of pre-existing conditions, which could make someone more vulnerable to the infection. PFAS have been directly linked to liver and kidney disease, cancers, thyroid disruption, reproductive issues, and more.
This concerning link between PFAS and Covid-19 is something our elected leaders in Vermont must be made aware of, and must subsequently take action on for the future of Vermont’s people. If we are able to reduce exposure now by banning products that contain these chemicals, we can prevent exposure and protect public health in the future.