‘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.
New studies by the Food and Drug Administration indicate that a common fluorinated chemical in food packaging and stain-resistant carpets and textiles is much more toxic than earlier studies by the chemical industry suggested.Read More
Scientists at the Environmental Working Group and Indiana University have for the first time conducted a review of 26 fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, and found that all display at least one characteristic of known human carcinogens.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing multiple criminal inquiries into corporations that manufacture the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to a report by Bloomberg Environment.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it will take long overdue next steps toward a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, is more weak tea from an agency that for decades has ignored the threats posed by these “forever” chemicals.Read More
Recent tests indicate high levels of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in a brand of menstrual underwear called Thinx. The brand is advertised as "Organic Cotton Underwear" and touts its certifications in statements and on its website. So why are PFAS chemicals in its products?Read More
On Tuesday the California Senate introduced two bills to address the growing contamination crisis of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. One bill would ban the chemicals in firefighting foam – one of the largest sources of PFAS contamination – and the other would expand the state’s program to test water for many more formulations of the chemicals.Read More
Friday marks one year since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its latest plan to address the crisis of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which have likely contaminated a majority of drinking water supplies nationwide. But President Trump’s so-called action plan has met few of the milestones parents expect from a one-year-old.Read More
The Environmental Working Group is writing to urge ATSDR, an agency on the front lines of the fight to protect public health from PFAS pollution, to provide on its website the most robust, easily accessible information for the public, medical professionals and policymakers.Read More
Attached is EWG’s testimony to the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on H.R. 2827, the Keep Food Containers Safe From PFAS Act of 2019.Read More
New laboratory tests commissioned by EWG have for the first time found the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas. The results confirm that the number of Americans exposed to PFAS from contaminated tap water has been dramatically underestimated by previous studies, both from the Envirionmental Protection Agency and EWG’s own research.Read More
Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo and EWG president and co-founder Ken Cook today praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for taking bold action to reduce PFAS pollution.Read More
New laboratory tests commissioned by EWG have for the first time found the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas. The results confirm that the number of Americans exposed to PFAS from contaminated tap water has been dramatically underestimated by previous studies, both from the Environmental Protection Agency and EWG’s own research.Read More
Exposure through the skin to the toxic fluorinated chemical once used to make Teflon could pose the same health hazards as ingesting the compound in water or food, according to a new animal study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.Read More
Today supporters gathered at the California State Capitol to urge the state Assembly to pass the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, A.B. 495. If passed, the law would ban toxic ingredients like lead, mercury and formaldehyde from the beauty and personal care products Californians use every day. The law will face its first key vote on Tuesday.Read More
EWG today applauded the House for voting to pass H.R. 535, the PFAS Action Act.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency has a long history of failing to act to protect Americans from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which are linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.Read More
On Wednesday, I spent the day with retired military firefighter Kevin Ferrara. Like thousands of military firefighters, Master Sgt. Ferrara was trained at Chanute Air Force Base – a now-closed facility in Illinois – to spray firefighting foams made with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
The Trump administration threatened to veto PFAS legislation on Tuesday, just days after failing to meet its promise to move forward by the end of 2019 with efforts to set a drinking water standard for the toxic fluorinated chemicals.Read More
The defense spending bill passed by the Senate today excludes key provisions designed to reduce ongoing releases of the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, remove PFAS from tap water and clean up legacy PFAS contamination.Read More