‘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.
Banning or restricting toxic chemicals one at a time is like fighting the mythical hydra: For each head cut off, multiple replacements appear that may be just as hazardous. There's no better example than PFCs, the nonstick chemicals used in DuPont's Teflon and many other consumer products.Read More
DuPont and its spinoff company Chemours agreed today to pay $671 million to settle about 3,500 lawsuits from West Virginia and Ohio residents whose drinking water was poisoned by a cancer-causing chemical used to make Teflon. Although the settlement closes the most infamous case involving the chemical PFOA, its toxic legacy lingers worldwide, said EWG President Ken Cook.Read More
This morning EWG released a report, which showed that many fast food chains nationwide still use food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with highly fluorinated chemicals.Read More
New research based on nationwide tests shows that many fast food chains still use food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with highly fluorinated chemicals. EWG’s report supplements a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, which shows some of the test samples contained traces of a notorious and now-banned chemical formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon.
Fluorine-based chemicals that can cause cancer, developmental toxicity and numerous other detrimental health effects have contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans, and the blood of people and animals worldwide. But how did these chemicals get there – and what happens when they’re passed on to future generations?
A federal jury ordered DuPont to pay more than $5 million to an Ohio man who alleged he contracted testicular cancer from drinking water contaminated with a toxic chemical formerly used to make Teflon. Jurors found that DuPont acted with malice in dumping an industrial chemical into the Ohio River, clearing the path for DuPont to be assessed additional punitive damages.
One in every four American newborns consumes formula from birth. Around two-thirds of these babies drink some formula by the time they are three months old.
Drinking water supplies serving more than 5.2 million Americans may be contaminated with two perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency now deems safe, according to an EWG analysis of EPA test data.
Today the Environmental Protection Agency issued a long-awaited drinking water health advisory for the perfluorinated chemicals PFOA and PFOS. But EPA’s advisory falls far short of what’s needed to fully protect public health, and it is not a legally enforceable limit.
The Environmental Protection Agency was first alerted 15 years ago to contamination of drinking water by PFOA, a chemical used to make Teflon that has since been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, heart disease and other serious health problems. Since then, PFOA pollution has grown from a regional problem to a national crisis. Yet EPA still has not set a legal limit for the compound in drinking water, even in the face of repeated appeals from state officials and representatives of the public interest community.
On this day in 1938, a DuPont chemist named Roy J. Plunkett in Deepwater, N.J., accidentally discovered polytetrafluoroethylene, a slippery substance remarkably resistant to water, grease and stains. DuPont patented PTFE as Teflon. To honor Plunkett’s discovery, April 6 is National Teflon Day, according to nationaldaycalendar.com, which tracks such things. We won’t be celebrating.
The bad news about a toxic chemical used to make Teflon keeps getting worse.Read More
Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs – the class of chemicals used in DuPont’s Teflon, 3M’s Scotchgard and many other products – pollute the bodies of people and animals in every corner of the world. In the latest findings, Canadian scientists have detected PFCs in virtually all of the eggs of herring gulls sampled in the Great Lakes region.
Under pressure from EWG and other environmental and health groups, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is banning three grease-resistant chemical substances linked to cancer and birth defects from use in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers and other food packaging. The FDA’s belated action comes more than a decade after EWG and other advocates sounded alarms and five years after U.S. chemical companies stopped making the chemicals. It does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous.
A federal jury on Wednesday (Oct. 7) found DuPont liable for causing an Ohio woman’s kidney cancer by poisoning her drinking water with a chemical used to make Teflon. The jurors ordered the company to pay $1.6 million in damages.
More than 15 years after an attorney investigating mysterious cattle deaths in Parkersburg, W. Va., discovered that DuPont had polluted the area’s drinking water with a carcinogenic chemical used to make Teflon, the company is finally facing trial.http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/14/us-dupont-trial-preview-idUSKCN0RE0DG20150914
When you drink a glass of water, you expect it to be clean and pure, not contaminated with invisible toxic chemicals. But nationwide testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are drinking water tainted by an industrial compound that was used for decades to make Teflon.
If you’re a chemical industry spin doctor trying to discredit the scientific evidence on the dangers of a compound that contaminates the drinking water of millions of Americans, Thursday was a bad day.Read More
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.