‘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.
The phaseout of a hazardous chemical formerly used to make Teflon has likely prevented thousands of low-weight births in the U.S. each year, saving billions of dollars in health care costs, says a new study from researchers at New York University.Read More
How many times a day do you drink water? Cook with it? Brush your teeth with it? Offer some to your children?Read More
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 1 percent of samples from public drinking water systems nationwide were contaminated with PFOA, a nonstick chemical formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon.Read More
Robert Bilott, the Ohio attorney who exposed DuPont's cover-up of the dangers of a cancer-causing Teflon chemical, is a 2017 laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the "alternative Nobel Prize."Read More
When it comes to PFOA, an extremely potent toxic chemical formerly used to make Teflon, President Trump’s nominee to oversee chemical safety at the Environmental Protection Agency has a sticky history.Read More
Three hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly added to processed foods, waterproof clothing and other everyday products may cause obesity.
Michael Dourson, President Trump’s expected nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office, has made a career of helping industry stave off or weaken regulations on toxic chemicals.Read More
This week, EWG released two reports.
New research from EWG and Northeastern University in Boston uncovered highly fluorinated toxic chemicals, known as PFCs or PFASs, in the drinking water of 15 million Americans in 27 states, and from more than four dozen industrial and military sources nationwide.Read More
The known extent of the contamination of U.S. communities with PFCs – highly fluorinated toxic chemicals, also known as PFASs, that have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems – continues to expand with no end in sight. New research from EWG and Northeastern University in Boston details PFC pollution in tap water supplies for 15 million Americans in 27 states and at more than four dozen industrial and military sources from Maine to California.Read More
Legislation introduced today would make California the first state to ban perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, from fast food wrappers and takeout containers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on any given day one in three American children – no matter their age, race or family income – eat fast food. Hamburgers, french fries, burritos, pizza and other fast food items are often served in paper wrappers or boxes coated with grease-repellent perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, that may harm children’s health.
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.