‘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.
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.
“Stain-resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal” is how journalist Callie Lyons refers to a chemical called C8 that’s found in the bodies of nearly all humans and animals on the planet. Exposure to this highly fluorinated chemical has been linked to cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, obesity, ulcerative colitis and decreased immune response to vaccines in children.
In 2005 the Environmental Protection Agency fined chemical giant DuPont a record $16.5 million over its decades-long cover-up of the health hazards of C8, also known as PFOA. One of a family of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, PFOA was a key ingredient in making Teflon, the non-stick, waterproof, stain-resistant “miracle of modern chemistry” used in thousands of household products.Read More
Ten years ago, DuPont was forced to phase out a key chemical in making Teflon, after revelations that for nearly 45 years the company covered up evidence of its health hazards, including cancer and birth defects. But a new EWG investigation finds that the chemicals pushed by DuPont and other companies to replace the Teflon chemical and similar perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs – already in wide use in food wrappers and outdoor clothing – may not be much – if at all – safer.Read More
An independent scientific panel approved by the DuPont company as part of a class action lawsuit has linked an industrial chemical known as C-8 or PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer in humans.Read More
The DuPont company has agreed to pay $8.3 million to install water filters in nearly 5,000 southern New Jersey homes whose tap water is polluted with the toxic industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8.Read More
EWG and Environmental Defence Canada comment that the Canadian government’s Draft Screening Assessment for perfluorooctanoic acid ignores at least 12 key human and laboratory studies. Evidence suggests much greater risks to human health than determined by Canadian officials.Read More
Children and teens exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the chemical used to make many non-stick and stain-proof coatings, have elevated cholesterol levels, reports a landmark study by West Virginia University researchers.Read More
Oakland, Calif. – The chemical industry’s agreement with the federal Food and Drug Administration to phase out toxic perfluorinated compounds used to grease-proof pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrapping and other food packaging does not go far enough to protect public health.Read More
North Carolinians could be exposed to much higher concentrations of a notorious Teflon chemical than the rest of the country under a proposed state regulation that would allow unsafe levels of the contaminant in drinking water, scientists at EWG warn.Read More
My public health ethics class began with the intense, young professor asking a simple question: What do you value the most?Read More
EWG staffers put our heads together to come up with this list of bad news environmental stories of the last decade that people might have missed. But there were plenty of big stories that hardly anyone could have missed, such as climate change. What's on your list of the biggest environmental stories of the last 10 years?Read More
Laboratory tests commissioned by EWG have detected as many as 232 toxic chemicals in cord blood samples collected from 10 minority newborns. Notably these tests show, for the first time, bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic component and synthetic estrogen, in umbilical cord blood of American infants.Read More
EWG comments that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft toxicological profile for perfluoroalkyl compounds lacks risk-based values despite abundant data that the chemical family is toxic to people.Read More
Olga Naidenko, a Senior Scientist at EWG, informs us on the dangers of using non-stick pans, like Teflon, when cooking in your kitchen. Teflon pans produce toxic fumes which can create allergies and flu like symptom for users.Read More
A March 10 agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. over drinking water contamination around the company’s Parkersburg, WV, plant leaves people in the area exposed to dangerous levels of the Teflon chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a probable carcinogen and reproductive system toxin also known as C8.Read More
In the last weeks of the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly handed DuPont Co. a three-year extension to complete tests mandated by a 2005 legal settlement on a toxic DuPont product.Read More