‘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.
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
In a major victory for the movement for safer cosmetics, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, Assembly Bill 2762, into law. This is the nation’s first state-level ban of 24 toxic ingredients, including mercury and formaldehyde, from the beauty and personal care products Californians use every day.
The Environmental Working Group and the Personal Care Products Council applaud California Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing into law Assembly Bill 2762, which prohibits the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products with certain ingredients in California. This landmark bill moves the industry one step closer to global regulatory alignment.Read More
Rob Bilott’s Exposure is a real-life whodunit, a page-turning courtroom drama, a David-and-Goliath story of one man against an industrial colossus and a shocking exposé of America’s utterly broken environmental policy. You should also take this book personally – because the “exposure” of the title is yours.Read More
More than 700 Department of Defense sites are likely to be contaminated with the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, according to new data released this week by the Pentagon.Read More
A study of almost 50,000 births in Minnesota is reportedly the first to establish a cause-and-effect link between high levels of the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in drinking water and higher rates of infertility, premature birth and low birth weight babies.Read More
Suspected industrial dischargers of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are located less than a mile of 27 schools or childcare facilities that maintain their own water systems, an EWG analysis finds.Read More
As parents send their kids back to school, reopening buildings safely is top of mind. Parents are worried about the coronavirus pandemic but likely unaware that some schools are near industrial facilities known or suspected of producing or using the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The California legislature approved a measure to address the growing contamination crisis of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. The bill would ban the chemicals in PFAS-based firefighting foams, like aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF – one of the most significant sources of PFAS water contamination. The bill now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until the end of September to act on it.Read More
The California legislature passed Assembly Bill 2762, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. This landmark legislation bans 12 toxic ingredients, such as PFAS, mercury and formaldehyde, which are already prohibited from cosmetics and other personal care products sold in the European Union and other countries. The law now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom.Read More
The Environmental Working Group submitted written comments to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council with recommendations on the necessary measures for addressing the PFAS contamination crisis.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency canceled a study to look into the incineration of the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. The study would have burned toxic PFAS and measured the amount released into the air at the Union County Resource Recovery Facility on the Rahway River in New Jersey.Read More
From the beginning, the Trump administration has aggressively slashed environmental regulations. A New York Times analysis identified 100 environmental protections that have been reversed or are in the process of getting rolled back. The administration’s record on chemical safety has been especially hazardous for the health of Americans, especially children.Read More
Environmental Working Group presented comments to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, urging the Council to consider both historical and current PFAS contamination and to ensure that fence-line communities remain protected from thRead More
Current methods of managing waste from toxic “forever chemicals” don’t work – and in fact, perpetuate the cycle of contamination, according to peer-reviewed research by scientists from the Environmental Working Group.Read More
Today the California Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, A.B. 2762, passed out of the State Senate Environmental Quality Committee. If enacted, the law would be the first in the nation to ban 12 toxic ingredients, including mercury and formaldehyde, from the beauty and personal care products Californians use every day.Read More
Three spending bills proposed by the House will make historic investments to address the regulation and cleanup of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
More than a dozen reforms to reduce and remediate pollution from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS were included in the annual Department of Defense spending bill that passed the House today.Read More