‘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.
A new study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found toxic fluorinated, or PFAS, chemicals at high levels in nearly one-third of the cosmetics products it tested.Read More
GenX, introduced a decade ago as a “safer” alternative for the notorious non-stick chemicals PFOA and PFOS, is nearly as toxic to people as what it replaced, says an Environmental Protection Agency study released today.Read More
Congress passed legislation Wednesday that will give commercial airports the option to switch to firefighting foams that do not include the highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
The family of fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals includes more than 4,700 chemicals – some linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and developmental defects, and others whose health effects are unknown. One thing’s for sure: You don’t want them in your body.Read More
The contamination of drinking water and groundwater by toxic fluorinated compounds, known as PFAS chemicals, is a national crisis demanding a national response.Read More
Attached are EWG’s comments to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, on its draft toxicological profile on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as PFAS.Read More
The known extent of contamination of American communities with toxic fluorinated compounds, known as PFAS chemicals, continues to grow at an alarming rate.Read More
A government report released today – which was suppressed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense and the White House for fear it would cause a “public relations nightmare” – recommends a much lower safe level for toxic fluorinated, or PFAS, chemicals than the EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory level.Read More
Attached is a letter submitted by more than 50 public interest organizations calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to release a recent toxicological profile by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that assesses theRead More
A wide-ranging coalition of public interest groups is calling for the immediate release of a suppressed federal study that says perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water are hazardous at much lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines state.Read More
Mixtures of chemicals commonly found in consumer products are more likely to increase breast cancer risk than the same chemicals individually, according to a new analysis. But safety tests by government regulators don’t routinely evaluate the combined effects of multiple chemical exposures.Read More
At a so-called leadership summit today, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said drinking water contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals is a “national priority.” But a new EWG report reveals that the EPA hasn’t even told Americans the true extent of the pollution, which is much worse than previously reported.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.comRead More
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is preparing to propose safe levels for fluorinated chemicals in drinking water nearly six times more stringent than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendation.Read More
The Defense Department has for the first time disclosed the locations of military installations where tap water or groundwater on or off base is contaminated with highly toxic fluorinated chemicals.Read More
Two decades after pollution from highly toxic fluorinated chemicals was first reported in American communities and drinking water, the number of known contamination sites is growing rapidly, with no end in sight.Read More
The latest update of an interactive map by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University documents publicly known PFAS pollution from 94 sites in 22 states, including industrial plants and dumps, military air bases, civilian airports and fire training sites. It also shows PFAS pollution of tap water for 16 million people in 33 states and Puerto Rico.Read More
EWG has submitted comments to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control on the agency’s proposed listing of carpets and rugs containing PFAS chemicals as a priority product for review as part of the Safer Consumer Products Program.
Exposure to fluorinated industrial chemicals, known as PFAS or PFC chemicals, may increase the amount of weight that people, especially women, regain after dieting, according to a new study by Harvard University researchers, published in PLOS Medicine. It found that women with higher levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood at the start of the study regained an average of 3.7 to 4.8 pounds more than women with lower levels of the chemicals in their blood.Read More
On Wednesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the first state law to ban toxic fluorinated chemicals in food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and fast-food wrappers.Read More
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt will hold a summit in May on the pervasive contamination of the nation’s drinking water with highly fluorinated chemicals.Read More