‘Forever Chemicals’: Teflon, Scotchgard and the PFAS Contamination Crisis
In 1946, DuPont introduced Teflon to the world, changing millions of people’s lives – and polluting their bodies. Today, the family of compounds including Teflon, commonly called PFAS, is found not only in pots and pans but also in the blood of people around the world, including 99 percent of Americans. PFAS chemicals pollute water, do not break down, and remain in the environment and people for decades. Some scientists call them “forever chemicals."
Since 2001, when news erupted about the contamination of drinking water near a Teflon plant in West Virginia, EWG has been in the forefront of research and advocacy on PFAS chemicals. Links to much of our work follow. For a compelling overview of the contamination in West Virginia and its aftermath, see the acclaimed documentary film The Devil We Know, available on multiple streaming platforms.
A robust body of research reveals a chemical crisis of epic proportions. Nearly all Americans are affected by exposure to PFAS chemicals in drinking water, food and consumer products.
What are PFAS chemicals?
Per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS chemicals, are a family of thousands of chemicals used to make water-, grease- and stain-repellent coatings for a vast array of consumer goods and industrial applications. These chemicals are notoriously persistent in the environment and the human body, and some have been linked to serious health hazards.
What are the health effects of PFAS?
The two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, formerly used by DuPont to make Teflon, and PFOS, an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – were phased out under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency after scientific evidence of serious health problems came to light. The manufacture, use and importation of both PFOA and PFOS are now effectively banned in the U.S., but evidence suggests the next-generation PFAS chemicals that have replaced them may be just as toxic. PFAS chemicals pollute water, do not break down and remain in the environment and in people for decades.
Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to:
- Testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancer.
- Weakened childhood immunity.
- Low birth weight.
- Endocrine disruption.
- Increased cholesterol.
- Weight gain in children and dieting adults.
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Newly released test data from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency show that more than 100 public water systems in the state are contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
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In his campaign’s environmental justice plan, President-elect Joe Biden made a historic commitment to tackle contamination from the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. One critical promise in his plan is to designate the two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law.Read More
A federal health agency is investigating whether exposure to the fluorinated "forever chemicals" called PFAS could affect the potential effectiveness and duration of a Covid-19 vaccine.Read More
Today Amazon announced it will ban the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from its Amazon Kitchen brand products.Read More
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In the wake of the Trump administration’s rollback of more than 100 federal environmental regulations, California has again showed leadership, with new laws to protect public health. In the past two years, EWG’s team in Sacramento shepherded numerous legislative proposals to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, with nearly every bill signed into law.Read More
EWG submitted comments to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee to recommend the prioritization of four per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), soRead More
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Toxic PFAS chemicals, notorious for contaminating drinking water supplies across the U.S., are harmful to nearly every human organ, and the immune system is particularly vulnerable. PFAS mixtures, which are used in a variety of consumer products, can be found in the body of nearly every American and in the developing fetus.Read More
No candidate for president has ever pledged to make the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS a priority – until now.Read More
The Big Bang of the nationwide “forever chemicals” crisis was the revelation in 2001 that PFOA, a toxic compound used to make Teflon, had contaminated the drinking water for 70,000 people near a DuPont factory in West Virginia. Pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency forced DuPont and other companies to phase out PFOA, and they agreed not to use it after 2015.Read More
It’s been 18 months since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its plan to address the crisis of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which a new peer-reviewed study by EWG scientists estimates have likely contaminated the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans.Read More
A peer-reviewed study by scientists at the Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 200 million Americans could have the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or ppt, or higher. Independent scientific studies have recommended a safe level for PFAS in drinking water of 1 ppt, a standard that is endorsed by EWG.Read More
If you’re pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, it’s likely you’re considering how to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals. After all, you no longer have just your health to think about, you also have that of your future child.Read More