A new study has revealed that many soft contact lenses sold in the United States contain dangerously high levels of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Researchers tested 18 popular kinds of contact lenses and found extremely high levels of organic fluorine, a marker of PFAS, in each. PFAS are a class of 14,000 chemicals that are typically used in consumer products to make them water and heat-resistant. They are also used in a number of household items, including clothes, furniture, adhesives, packaging, and wires. The chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down.
The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, raises concerns about the potential health risks associated with long-term exposure to PFAS through contact lenses.
“Given the high prevalence of contact lens use, the potential ocular and systemic risks associated with exposure to PFAS via contact lenses warrant further consideration,” the study authors wrote.
The results imply that all of the tested contact lenses tested exceeded 100 ppm, which is equivalent to 100,000,000 ppt, or 50,000 times more than the highest level deemed safe in drinking water by the EPA.
Scott Belcher, a North Carolina State University researcher, told The Guardian ”you could consider the lenses almost pure PFAS.”
PFAS have been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer, thyroid disease, immune system dysfunction, and developmental problems in children. The chemicals have been found in the blood of nearly all Americans and are known to accumulate in the body over time.
The findings of the study have prompted calls for greater regulation of PFAS in consumer products, including contact lenses. Environmental and health advocates are urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action to protect consumers from the potential health risks of PFAS exposure.
“Consumers have a right to know what chemicals are in the products they use and to be protected from exposure to toxic, carcinogenic chemicals like PFAS,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
The FDA has yet to respond to the study, but the agency has previously acknowledged the potential health risks associated with PFAS exposure. In a statement last year, the FDA said it was “actively working to understand and address the potential risks associated with PFAS in food and other products.”
In the meantime, consumers are being advised to be cautious when using contact lenses and to look for alternatives that do not contain PFAS. Those who are concerned about their exposure to PFAS can also take steps to reduce their exposure, such as avoiding products that contain the chemicals and using water filters that are designed to remove PFAS from tap water.