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Anti-fog sprays and cloths to stop glasses and face shields misting made with toxic ‘forever chemicals’

The i 05/01/2022 Madeleine Cuff

Sprays and cloths that promise to stop glasses fogging up while wearing a mask may contain high levels of potentially toxic chemicals, according to research by Duke University in the US.

The findings have prompted fears that the products, which have surged in popularity during the pandemic, may pose a risk to human and animal health.

Heather Stapleton, professor of environmental chemistry and health at Duke, said she was “concerned” by the findings.

“It’s disturbing to think that products people have been using on a daily basis to help keep themselves safe during the Covid pandemic may be exposing them to a different risk,” she said.

Prof Stapleton began the study after she bought anti-fogging spray for her daughter to stop her glasses steaming up while she wore a mask at school.

“The chemist in me, I automatically looked at the ingredients… as soon as I saw ‘fluoro aliphatic’ my alarm bells went off,” she told i.

The team ended up testing a selection of nine anti-fogging sprays and cloths including the one bought by Prof Stapleton, and found they all contained high levels of fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and fluorotelomer ethoxylates (FTEOs).

Both are members of a 5,000-strong group of ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS, which are widely used in industry and manufacturing to make non-stick and grease-repellent products, such as waterproof jackets, non-stick cookware and takeaway food packaging.

They are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they hardly degrade in the natural environment, leading to ever-increasing pollution levels.

Many are thought to be toxic to humans and wildlife, with two of the most studied chemicals in the family – PFOA and PFOS – found to cause cancer and disrupt foetal development.

The two PFAS identified by the Duke researchers – FTOHs and FTEOs – are not well studied, and little is known about their potential health effects. But research does suggest that when FTOHs have been inhaled or absorbed through the skin, they could break down in the body into toxic PFOA.

“What I was really concerned about when I saw this was the presence of the FTOHs, because they are quite volatile,” said Prof Stapleton. “So anyone spraying this on their glasses and then putting those glasses on, I have no doubt they would be inhaling those compounds.”

Only one of the specific products tested is available to buy in the UK, but there are hundreds of similar products for sale to UK consumers. Prof Stapleton said it is likely products sold in the UK also contain the concerning chemicals.

“It seems likely that these would be very common in these solutions, regardless of where they are sold in the world,” she said.

Dr Nicholas Herkert, who led the study, told i the PFAS were found at concentrations that far exceed recommended limits for safe exposure set by the US government.

He urged consumers to be cautious of these products until further research is done. “There’s no way I would ever use these products now,” he said.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

PFOA and PFOS are the only two chemicals from the PFAS family to be banned completely, but many others are being used in everyday consumer products despite scientists having little idea of their potential toxicity.

Earlier this year the UK Government said it will investigate the risk posed to public health and the environment by PFAS. A ban could follow. The EU is also drawing up legislation to phase out the use of PFAS completely in the EU.

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