'Forever chemicals' found in Filipinas with breast cancer: study

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2021 01:18 PM

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MANILA -- High levels of what is referred to by experts as "forever chemicals" have been found in Filipinas with breast cancer, according to a study.

Headed by University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman professor Dr. Michael Velarde, the study looks at the exposure of Filipinas to 41 endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). It included 150 participants -- half were breast cancer patients, and the rest were healthy.

The study showed high exposure of PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," among breast cancer patients, particularly in women from the industrialized CALABARZON region.

It added that factory workers and household workers had higher concentrations of certain types of PFAS compared to non-factory workers and non-household workers, respectively. 

"Marami kaming tiningnan na chemical pero ito (PFAS) 'yung nag-stand out," Velarde said in a recent virtual briefing. "Bininyagan sila as 'forever chemicals' kasi mahirap talagang mag-degrade."

"Very stable itong PFAS... Ginawa talaga 'yan para maging thermostable at resistant sa degradation. Nagagamit 'yan sa mga product natin pero ang problema ay environment-resistant siya kaya andiyan siya nang matagal," he added.

Velarde admitted that there are limitations to their findings since this is the first time that PFAS levels in humans were measured in the country. 

He encouraged the creation of the Philippines' own biomonitoring program so more data can be collected about "forever chemicals" and their effects on public health.

"At least [for now], alam natin na nakikita na siya na mataas doon sa mga babaeng may breast cancer," Velarde said.

HOUSEHOLD ITEMS, FOOD PACKAGING

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that are usually found in food packaging, non-stick cookware, stain- and water-repellent fabrics, paints, and cosmetics, among others. 

Experts say these can take up to 1,000 years to break down, adding that people can also get exposed to PFAS through contaminated water, food, and air, as well as through skin with household consumer products. 

"Mga non-stick grills and non-stick [cookware] kasi they are thermoresistant, so 'yun ay isang source. Mga water-repellent na mga jacket, may mga PFAS levels na rin 'yan," Velarde said.

Dr. Roy Gerona, associate professor of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at University of California, acknowledged that the list of items with PFAS is "really long," saying that most products "unfortunately incorporates one or more of these chemicals."

He said, however, that steps can still be taken to minimize exposure.

"If you're using [non-stick] pans when you cook your food, make sure na walang natatanggal... If there are scratches, you should stop using that pan. Or better yet, use a steel pan," he said. 

"Eat and use organic... If you have access and if you can afford organic food, that would be good because there are a lot of EDCs that are already not there," he added.

Gerona pushed for more policies in regulating the use of PFAS, which is already done in the United States, as well as public awareness on the matter.

"If that can be done in the US, why can't it be done in the Philippines?" he asked. "There are already models that show it can be done."

Velarde, for his part, called for transparency among stakeholders on which products contain PFAS, as well as proper waste management.

Breast cancer is said to be the most common form of cancer globally, with the Philippines having the highest prevalence of the disease in Asia. 

The Philippines has yet to release a list of products containing PFAS, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said exposure can also happen through items such as microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, varnishes, and sealants. 

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