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Tiny Concentrations of Teflon Chemical Harmful to Public Health

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For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, August 20, 2015

WASHINGTON – Newly published research shows that even very small doses of the Teflon chemical PFOA in drinking water pose a more serious threat to public health than previously thought. EWG’s report on the research, released today, shows that federal guidance on safe levels for PFOA is hundreds, even thousands of times too weak. 

In June, two prominent environmental health scientists, Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, published a comprehensive review of PFOA research that found that levels in many water systems are “at least two orders of magnitude” higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency advises is safe.

PFOA has heavily contaminated the drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley of West Virginia and Ohio, near a plant where DuPont made and used the now-phased out chemical. Nationally, PFOA has been detected in 94 public water systems in 27 states, serving more than 6.5 million Americans.

Click here to read the full report: Teflon Chemical Harmful at Smallest Doses

Grandjean and Clapp termed 0.001 parts per billion, or ppb, the “approximate” safe level for PFOA, but EWG calculations based on their data yielded a level of just 0.0003 ppb –lower than the EPA advisory level by a factor of more than 1,300. One ppb is less than a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water is 0.4 parts per billion.

“The new science indicates that all the PFOA standards are more than 1,000 times too weak to fully protect public health,” said Bill Walker, investigations editor at EWG and co-author of the new report. “Even the lowest level detected in nationwide water sampling is about five times higher than what the research says would be dangerous.”

“People should be protected against water contaminated with PFOA – especially children and women who plan to get pregnant,” said coauthor David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at EWG. “Exposure to PFCs like PFOA has been associated with cancer, high cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, obesity and low birth weight – all good reasons to reduce your exposure.”

“From an ethical and moral standpoint,” added Walker, “it’s outrageous that babies and children are exposed to this chemical though no fault of their own. This is a horrible experiment, exposing Americans to chemicals before they can make choices to avoid it. While we know that PFOA can be passed from mother to unborn child in the womb, we don’t yet know what the health effects will be for those exposed so young.”

Through Teflon’s use in hundreds of household products – carpets, clothing, food wrappers and many more – PFOA and closely related chemicals have spread to the remote corners of the Earth and contaminate the blood of virtually all Americans.

In a sign of the growing scientific recognition that PFOA is more harmful than previously thought, the National Toxicology Program recently announced a systematic re-evaluation of the chemical’s effect on the immune system. The program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation issued a call for ongoing or upcoming studies to be considered in the evaluation and for the nomination of scientists for an expert panel to review the findings. 

In May, EWG released a report titled Poisoned Legacy to call attention to DuPont’s long history of covering up evidence of PFOA’s health hazards, including cancer and birth defects. 



Ten years ago, EPA fined chemical giant DuPont an unprecedented $16.5 million for knowingly contaminating the drinking water of residents in Ohio and West Virginia with toxic PFOA, also called C8. For generations, communities in West Virginia and Ohio had embraced DuPont, which repaid back their loyalty by poisoning the water and environment. Lawyers have waged an epic legal battle to ensure that these citizens get clean water and are compensated when they suffer from cancer and other diseases. The first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims is scheduled to come to trial Sept. 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

"To this day, my family, my friends and tens of thousands of local residents in the mid-Ohio Valley are drinking untreated water contaminated at levels that are dangerous and unacceptable," said Keep Your Promises Advisor Dr. Paul Brooks. "I was at the Parkersburg Homecoming Parade last week, surrounded by young families oblivious to the fact that their children are growing up drinking water that is poisoning them. It's time for DuPont to step up, take responsibility, and immediately filter the water in Parkersburg, Vienna and in other affected communities.The fact that this company is still dragging its feet is shameful."

EWG has also produced an interactive map  that shows nationwide detections of PFOA, PFOS and four other PFCs.