‘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.
In its final days, the Bush administration appears poised to issue an emergency health advisory for tap water polluted with the toxic Teflon chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) effectively allowing a significant level of pollution and discouraging cleanup of PFOA contamination in tap water in at least 9 states.Read More
A chemical used to make Teflon, food wrappers and dozens of other consumer products is linked to higher levels of cholesterol, according to the latest findings of a multi-year study of 69,000 West Virginians and Ohioans whose drinking water was contaminated by a DuPont manufacturing plant in Washington, W.Va, along the Ohio River.Read More
EWG’s guide to perfluorochemicals gives a quick overview of the issue and the health concerns. Tips are provided on how to avoid these chemicals.Read More
In 2006, under pressure from the U.S. EPA, DuPont and 7 other companies promised to phase out by 2015 a cancer-causing chemical called PFOA, used to make Teflon and also found in grease-resistant coatings for food packaging. In its place, the chemical industry is pushing new, supposedly “green” food package coatings. But an investigation by EWG finds no evidence that the industry-touted replacement chemicals being rushed to market are safer -- and plenty of evidence that DuPont and other manufacturers are continuing a decades-long pattern of deception about the health risks of PFOA and related chemicals.Read More
A chemical used to make Teflon, food wrappers and dozens of other products may harm the immune system, liver and thyroid and cause higher cholesterol in children, according to the initial findings of a study of 69,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio who live near a DuPont manufacturing plant.Read More
An Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) newly released draft human health risk assessment for the Teflon chemical (C-8, APFO, or PFOA) shows that the Agency has dramatically underestimated human health risks from exposures to this ubiquitous, persistent toxic chemical (EPA 2005). The Agency substantially tilts the assessment in DuPont's favor first by summarily discounting and then by outright ignoring significant scientific studies pointing to increased risks for heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, testicular cancer, and numerous other health harms. For some of the most critical health risks, such as those on the immune system, studies have yet to find a safe dose, yet EPA has excluded these effects altogether in this new assessment without explanation.Read More
Throughout the spring and summer of 2002, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted a series of community meetings on the hazards of drinking tap water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, or C8) from DuPont’s manufacturing operations in Washington, West Virginia. Our analysis of the content of the materials presented by the DEP at these meetings finds them to be in conflict with positions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), with studies in peer–reviewed scientific literature, and with industry–sponsored toxicity studies.
Question: I recently purchased school uniform shirts for my child and was horrified to find Dupont Teflon fabric protector stickers on the packaging. When I wrote to the company the agent said that there was no danger, as they did not use Scotchgard. Am I correct that Teflon is not better than Scotchgard?Read More
Question: I've heard nasty rumors regarding the treatment of carpet before it's sold and put into a house. I've heard that it's treated with some really bad chemicals, then rolled up and stored until sold. I'd really like to know what the carpet is treated with and what's the best thing to do.Read More
An independent panel responsible for determining health effects of the Teflon chemical C-8 are disatisfied with the design of the initial study which only measured death rates among workers at the West Virginia plant. The panel has requested a new study, which will measure disease occurrence as well as death of workers at the Dupont facility. [ via : Associated Press ]Read More
Today, a panel of outside experts gave draft comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saying that an indestructible, toxic chemical that pollutes nearly every American's blood is a "likely human carcinogen."Read More
EWG commends the professional staff and leadership at EPA for forging a stewardship agreement with major companies that will, if properly implemented, dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, pollution associated with the chemical known as PFOA, and related chemicals that break down to become PFOA and similar substances. These toxic chemicals pose numerous health risks, are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, and have already found their way into the blood of people worldwide, including most Americans.Read More
Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will fine Teflon maker DuPont $16.5 million for two decades' worth of covering up company studies that showed it was polluting drinking water and newborn babies with an indestructible chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems in animals. The chemical is in the blood of over 95 percent of Americans.Read More
Environmental Defence Canada has released "Toxic Nation" the first Canadian BodyBurden study, with 11 participants tested for 88 chemicals, including PCBs, fire retardants, PFOS (a chemical in the same family as the Teflon chemical PFOA) and heavy metals, all of which are suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, or reproductive or hormonal harm.Read More
DuPont disclosed in its SEC filing last week that the company earns $1 billion per year in revenues from the Teflon chemical PFOA or C8. Those revenues could be in danger if EPA decides to regulate the toxic chemical as a result of the agency's lawsuit against DuPont for withholding information about the Teflon chemical's health effects.Read More
Residents near DuPont's W.Va. Washington Works plant, where the Teflon chemical PFOA is produced, are speaking out against a landfill where the company dumped the toxic chemical.Read More
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