‘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.
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
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 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
Telfon-coated cookware poses a hazard when it is heated to high temperatures. EWG tests show that in 2 to 5 minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year.Read More
EWG asks EPA administrator Whitman to investigation apparent reporting violations by DuPont Chemical. EWG submits documentation that DuPont had determined that 2 of 7 babies born to Teflon-exposed female workers in the company's Parkersburg WV plant had facial birth defects. DuPont had not reported this information to EPA as required under Section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act.Read More
EWG alleged today that the DuPont chemical company has violated federal law by withholding from the government for the last 22 years a company study that detected a toxic, Teflon-related chemical in the umbilical cord blood of one infant born to a company worker, and in the blood of another worker’s baby.Read More
Consumers instantly recognize them as household miracles of modern chemistry, a family of substances that keeps food from sticking to pots and pans, repels stains on furniture and rugs, and makes the rain roll off raincoats. But in the past 5 years, the multi-billion dollar “perfluorochemical” industry has emerged as a regulatory priority for scientists and officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Read More
Secret tests conducted in 1984 by the DuPont chemical company found a Teflon-related contaminant (C8) in the tap water of the Little Hocking Water Association in Ohio, just across the river from the company’s Teflon plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. But the company never told the community, its water utility or state regulators about the tap water testing program, which continued through at least 1989, or about the positive findings.Read More
A review of federal and industry science on the toxic industrial chemical commonly called C8 (perflouroctanoic acid, used to make Teflon) reveals that water pollution policy by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is far less protective than previous industry standards.Read More
"Contamination of drinking water supplies by the toxic industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, or C8) is a continuing concern to the residents of Parkersburg and surrounding areas of Wood County near the source of the pollution, DuPont’s manufacturing operation in Washington, West Virginia."Read More