SAN FRANCISCO – 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.
"PFOA contaminates the tap water of 7 million Americans, pollutes the blood of virtually everyone and is found in the most remote parts of the planet," said Cook. "We celebrate the fact that justice has been served for tens of thousands of people in the mid-Ohio Valley, but we can't forget that PFOA and related nonstick compounds will continue to threaten our health for a long, long time."
PFOA is the best known of the class of chemicals called PFCs, which were used for decades in hundreds of consumer products – including DuPont's Teflon and 3M's Scotchgard – even as chemical companies covered up internal studies of its hazards. PFOA and its cousin, PFOS, never break down in the environment. They build up in people's bodies, and can be passed from mother to child in the womb and though breast milk.
PFCs' dangers came to light in a 2001 class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 50,000 residents of the region surrounding Parkersburg, W. Va., the home of DuPont's Teflon plant. In 2005, acting on a petition from EWG, the Environmental Protection Agency fined DuPont a record $16.5 million, and the company and other manufacturers agreed to phase out PFOA and PFOS.
A scientific panel funded by DuPont found probable links between PFOA and illnesses including testicular and kidney cancers and thyroid disease, and subsequent studies showed other health effects at even the smallest doses. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the U.S., chemical companies have replaced them with very similar chemicals that have not been proven safer.
"The story of PFOA is a tragic tale of how the worldwide spread of toxic chemicals in our everyday products – even when their manufacturers know they are harmful – has turned everyone on Earth into unwilling participants in a dangerous chemistry experiment," Cook said. "Are we going to learn in the decades to come that the chemicals replacing PFOA are also threatening our health? The chemical industry's history says yes."