PFAS Chemicals

‘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.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

In testimony today before a Senate appropriations committee, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler refused to support banning asbestos, one of the deadliest known carcinogens, and dodged questions about the health risks of PFAS chemicals, which have contaminated drinking water nationwide.

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News Release
Monday, April 1, 2019

Between 2012 and 2016, at least 30 new fluorinated chemicals, commonly called PFAS, were produced in significant volumes, according to Environmental Protection Agency data analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.

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News Release
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Today Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) introduced bipartisan legislation to sample water for contamination with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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News Release
Monday, March 25, 2019

Under pressure from Environmental Working Group and Capitol Hill lawmakers, the Army today agreed to waive its fee of almost $300,000 to process a public records request seeking information about fluorinated chemical contamination at military installations.

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News Release
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Army is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars to fulfill a public records request from EWG seeking data on military sites where drinking water sources are contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals.

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News Release
Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Pentagon is lobbying the White House to back woefully weak cleanup standards for PFAS chemicals, which contaminate water on or near hundreds of military bases, according to The New York Times.

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News Release
Friday, March 8, 2019

EWG News Roundup (3/8): Here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Senate Democratic leaders today called on the Trump administration to turn over documentation of all communications between key agencies and the White House about plans to address the PFAS contamination crisis.

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News Release
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Water sampled on or near at least 106 military sites was contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, above what EPA considers safe, according to Department of Defense data analyzed by EWG. But that’s only the tip of a toxic iceberg.

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News Release
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Environmental Working Group has identified and mapped 106 military sites in the U.S. where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, at levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health guideline. But this is only the tip of a toxic iceberg that is largely hidden and still growing.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Friday, March 1, 2019

Senate legislation introduced today with strong bipartisan support would classify the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund toxics law, an important step toward cleaning up widespread contamination by these compounds across the nation.

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News Release
Friday, February 22, 2019

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention will begin testing people who live in communities near current and former military installations for toxic fluorinated compounds, known as PFAS.

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News Release
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Last week, as he unveiled the Environmental Protection Agency’s toothless “action plan” on fluorinated chemicals, acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler maintained that the current guideline of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt, for the compound PFOA is a safe level in drinking water.

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News and Analysis
Article
Friday, February 15, 2019

Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, who was stationed for many years at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, lost his daughter Janey in 1985 at the age of 9 from leukemia after she was exposed to toxic chemicals while living on base.

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News Release
Thursday, February 14, 2019

Two of the nation’s leading voices fighting for victims of PFAS contamination and pushing for federal action sharply rebuked the Environmental Protection Agency’s toothless “action plan” for the fluorinated chemicals, announced today by acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler.

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News Release
Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called PFAS management plan would only make the nationwide crisis of pervasive pollution from fluorinated compounds worse, EWG said.

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News Release
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The toxic chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a national crisis demanding action.

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, February 7, 2019

Children exposed to chemicals commonly found in personal care products may be at a higher risk of suffering from lung damage later in life, according to a new European study.

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News Release
Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The toxic chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a national crisis demanding national action.

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News and Analysis
Article
Monday, February 4, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency reportedly has decided not to set legal limits for the toxic fluorinated chemicals PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The news is deeply disturbing, because an estimated 110 million Americans may be contaminated with those cancer-linked compounds or others in the chemical family known as PFAS.

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News and Analysis
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