Talking about PFAS in the US and Japan

Talking about PFAS in the US and Japan

Feb 11, 2024

I heard a talk on the SMARTLESS podcast with an amazing actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo talking about a film he did a few years ago about a huge issue that we rarely see covered in the international press and even see less about it here in Japan: PFAS - PER & POLYFLUROALKYL which includes 4,700 synthetic chemicals used since the 1940's in the US- originally developed by the military to protect the metal on tanks- a chemical that repels water, oil and is resistant to heat.

The problem is that now 80 years later, PFAS is being used in a wide variety of products from cosmetics to waterproof shoes, clothing, food wrappers and most famous as the non-stick TEFLON coating of your pans. The DARK WATERS film Mark Ruffalo was in is the true story of the corporate lawyer who had a family connection to West Virginia and took on the civil cases of factory workers and local residents being poisoned by use of PFAS in making the TEFLON products by the DU PONT co.

[SPOILER] I highly recommend watching the film if you can it is powerful and has quite a positive, hopeful ending as the lawyer starts to make headway in the courts against the chemical giants in class actions suits.

In 2024, we are starting to see governments take action against PFAS such as New Zealand banning the chemical use in cosmetics- great reminder to buy more New Zealand and naturally handmade cosmetics folks!

If you are looking for plastic and PFAS free, naturally made cosmetics that support women entrepreneurs, I am a fan of the many plastic-free & natural ingredient cosmetics there like Agnes&Me introduced by my talented Kiwi guide friend Louise Poppy. I also love the Canadian co. ELATE and the Hawaii based company LITTLE HANDS, but am still looking for a natural, plastic-free Japanese brand to support - recommendations please!

The reason I started down this PFAS rabbit hole was when I was introduced to Dr.Ryoko Matsuno who is based in Nagano, studied environmental law in the UK, worked in government as a policymaker, researcher and writer for Greenpeace and a great advocate for social and environmental sustainability in Japan.

It was wonderful to chat about the issues of Seed-Saving as well as PFAS in Japan on our Seek-Sustainable-Japan chat. One of the most shocking things is that there is no requirement for companies to disclose if PFAS is used or not in the labeling of products, so this is the first step needed.

A lot of the PFAS issues of the states are also at play here in Japan and is in the water, so avoid non-stick rice cookers and pans and research your cosmetics, but also be aware it is in fire-stopping foam. As it is in our water systems it is also in our food systems in trace amounts in our fish, meat and even vegetables- so it's almost impossible to avoid and it accumulates in the body as a "forever chemical" that can also be passed on to children in pregnancy and through breastfeeding. It has been shown to increase rates of cancers and birth defects.

The lawyer Rob Bilott (his story was depicted in the Dark Waters film with Mark Ruffalo) is at Taft Law in the US. Bilott has represented more than 70,000 people people who have had their health negatively impacted by exposure to PFAS by companies that knew it would cause health problems. He wrote a book about his 20-year battle against DuPont which was the basis of the movie Dark Waters.

So is it in Japan too? Yes! The Japan Times wrote about the PFAS issue and "Japan SLow to Wake Up to Dangers of PFAS" in 2023 and one of the main problems is from military bases leaking firefighting foam into the waterways in Okinawa. Many of the same companies in the US that Rob Bilott fights against also operate in Japan.

In our talk, Ryoko explains how the Minamata chemical poisoning cases in Japan are still ongoing, despite it happening in the 1950's. This key case she says has created a precedent and legal foundation to protect the public from companies that pollute our waterways in Japan. One of the most powerful things she said is how the case dispelled the myth that a woman's body would protect a baby from toxic chemical exposure- there were more than 2000 victims of the Minamata disaster according to this UN article and powerful video Mercury and Minamata Disease: a Lesson from Japan | United Nations | UN in Action

I feel it too folks- it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the manmade hazards polluting our natural world that we have to be aware of to protect ourselves, our children and try to make a better world for future generations. Pesticides, herbicides, plastics and microplastics and now PFAS is also something we need to have on your radar as you buy new products.

As Ryoko says, there is little we can do about PFAS in our water now - besides putting pressure on companies and government to stop using it- but we can do our research and be more careful about the products we buy. The hope is that the governments around the world will act quickly to regulate PFAS, require filters on air, water and land pollution, and eventually use the lessons from the past - like what happened in Minamata - to more vigilantly protect the people and planet with less emphasis on profits.

LINKS and Resource Information about PFAS products and how to avoid it:

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