Soren Johnson
Dr. Soren Johnson

A new study on the dangers of toxic chemicals we encounter in everyday living and products has a lot of parents wondering what the news means for their families.

PFAS can make life easier, and cleaner. But is there a cost to children and their health?

Dr. Soren Johnson, a pediatrician at Novant Health Robinhood Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, broke down what PFAS are, and the impacts on children.

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What are PFAS?

PFAS are per- and polyfluorinated substances - man-made chemicals used in a variety of products designed to make life run more smoothly. They’re used to repel liquids, grease and stains. And they’ve been used for decades. They’re found in the coating for nonstick pans, fast food wrappers and containers, rain gear, and stain-resistant fabrics and carpets.

Johnson said PFAS in fabrics and carpets can break down over time and get into the air. They also travel through soil and can be found in drinking water. PFAS compounds number in the thousands.

What is the problem with PFAS?

The problem, according to Johnson, is that PFAS tend to stick around in human bodies. For a very long time – earning them the name “forever chemicals.”

And as the toxins stick around, they start to build up in tissues.

Johnson compared a body’s method of filtering toxins to that of home air filters.

An air filter keeps dust and other particles from entering a heating or air conditioning unit. Human livers and kidneys generally perform the same functions. Except where PFAS are concerned. “Our bodies don’t have a mechanism to deal with them because they’re not natural compounds,” Johnson said. “So it’s not like our bodies excrete them or have a way to get rid of them.”

How do PFAS impact children?

Unborn children, infants, young children and teenagers are more susceptible to toxins because, Johnson said, “they have to do a lot of growing.” And the buildup of PFAS is linked to problems with fetal development, thyroid disease, and issues with livers and kidneys.

What’s still unknown is what levels of PFAS are safe, or when those levels become dangerous.

“We know it’s bad. But we don’t know exactly how bad ... we’ve just started to understand how that impacts health over time.”

What can parents do?

There is currently no way to reverse the negative impacts of PFAS in humans. For those who are concerned, Johnson suggested:

  • Using stainless steel or other nonstick cookware.
  • Think twice about stain-resistant fabrics and coats that repel all moisture.
  • This one will be difficult in today’s predominant lifestyle, but consider avoiding any “to-go” or fast-food containers that might contain PFAS.
  • Check out the PFAS page on

Johnson also suggested checking with your local water authority to see if they track PFAS levels. See the latest on Charlotte water here. Winston-Salem here. Wilmington water here. If those levels are concerning, there are water filters on the market which specifically filter out those compounds – he recommended looking for one approved by the National Science Foundation, or NSF.