‘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.
Six West Viriginia and Ohio lawyers received the 2005 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation July 26 for their work on behalf of residents drinking Teflon-contaminated water from DuPont's nearby Washington Works plant. DuPont was sued for dumping the persistent Teflon chemical into community water supplies, although the company has known of its toxicity and potential to cause human health effects for decades.Read More
In the past week, activists have pressed Teflon maker DuPont to clean up its act on two fronts. Environmental groups demanded that the company monitor groundwater around its local plant, the only one in the US that makes this indestructible, cancer-causing chemical, and the steeworkers' union urged carpet and clothing retailers and fast food companies to warn consumers that their products may be coated with chemicals that break down into DuPont's toxic Teflon chemical.Read More
A panel comprised mostly of independent scientists advising the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found today that DuPont's Teflon chemical, PFOA, is a "likely human carcinogen."Read More
Businesses that object to tough pollution standards often hold communities or states hostage by threatening to take their jobs and move. Now the shoe is on the other foot in West Virginia, where a frozen-foods company refused to bring its plant to the town of Parkersburg, where the water is contaminated with the Teflon chemical C8.Read More
In the latest study of toxic chemicals in people, the BBC reports that seven British TV personalities were tested for 104 industrial compounds in their blood. All were contaminated with toxins, and one had 30 different chemicals in her sysem. Scientists tested for commonly found chemicals including banned pesticides like DDT, flame retardants and the PFOA chemical found in Teflon and other nonstick pans and stain repellents.Read More
The penalty DuPont will reportedly pay for covering up its pollution of newborn American babies with the cancer-causing Teflon chemical will likely be $15 million. This sum amounts to just 8 percent of the maximum allowable fine.Read More
EWG today criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft risk assessment on the toxic Teflon chemical, PFOA, as a post-election tilt toward DuPont. The Agency ignored its own science panel's guidance and internal industry research with today's assessment of the human health risks from the Teflon chemical. (Read EWG analysis)Read More
Despite Teflon maker DuPont's longstanding claim that there are 'no known health effects' associated with its Teflon chemical PFOA, the company today announced that in a recently-completed worker study it found that PFOA exposures among Teflon plant workers were correlated with a 10 per cent increase in cholesterol.Read More
According to news reports, Teflon maker DuPont reported earning $331 million in the third quarter this year. That amount will just cover the possible $313 million fine it faces for illegally hiding from the EPA studies finding that their Teflon chemical moves from mother's blood to baby and that it had polluted drinking water supplies used by thousands of Ohioans and West Virginians.Read More
According to the Los Angeles Times, when confronted with criticism about the number of pollution lawsuits that EPA has filed during his tenure, EPA's Acting Enforcement Chief Tom Skinner asserted that EPA is actively pursuing settlements with polluters rather than lawsuits to punish violations of environmental laws.Read More
In an extraordinary announcement on July 8, 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed the results of a year-long investigation into DuPont's failure to disclose to the agency internal company studies showing pollution of human fetal cord blood and local tap water with a toxic Teflon ingredient, known as C8 or PFOA. Acting on a petition filed by the Environmental Working Group, the Agency found that DuPont engaged in unlawful behavior on three separate counts of hiding critical study results in company file cabinets for up to 20 years.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today put back on track its review of a chemical used to make Teflon cookware. The chemical, known as C-8 or PFOA, is found in virtually all Americans' blood. The EPA's investigation had been derailed by DuPont and other corporate interests, according to researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG).Read More
A new study presented at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicologists and Chemists links the Teflon chemical C8 [also known as PFOA] to elevated cancer rates. Researchers found higher levels of prostate cancer in men and cervical and uterine cancer in women exposed to C8 than in the general population.Read More
PFOA is used to make PTFE, the Teflon in pans. However, scientific evidence points to fluorotelomers as the main source of the PFOA and other perfluorinated chemicals in Americans' blood. That fluorotelomers on coated paper food packaging break down into PFOA and other chemicals is a separate problem from PTFE and cookware. This source of PFOA is one that DuPont cannot control by reducing emissions or impurities in its products.Read More
A chemical associated with dozens of popular consumer products has proven to be surprisingly toxic and pervasive. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting the most extensive scientific review in the Agency's history to find out how this chemical has contaminated the blood of over 90% of Americans.Read More
EWG asks the CEOs of nine major fast food corporations to disclose the use of toxic nonstick chemicals in their packaging.Read More
EWG testifies at a EPA public meeting on teflon contamination, and charges DuPont repeatedly downplayed questions of the Teflon chemical’s toxicity.Read More
A routine-seeming government meeting this Friday marks the public debut of what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says is one of the most sweeping regulatory inquiries it has ever mounted on an industrial chemical. The chemical happens to be the key manufacturing aid for what is unquestionably DuPont’s marquee product brand, Teflon.Read More
A series of studies published beginning in the 1950s shows that DuPont has known for at least 50 years that Teflon fumes at relatively low temperatures can cause an acute illness known as polymer fume fever. In several studies DuPont recruited human volunteers and intentionally exposed them to Teflon fumes to the point of illness. The results of these studies suggest that people cooking on Teflon and other non-stick pans may be at risk.Read More