Ask EWG: Why is there Teflon in clothes? Is it safe?

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?

Answer: The Teflon fabric protector on your child's shirts likely contains PFCs, and may break down into the common, toxic blood contaminant called PFOA. We aren't yet sure which sources cause us to be most exposed to these pernicious chemicals, but it is best to opt out of stain/water/oil repellants whenever possible.

Both Scotchgard and Teflon are in a family of chemicals called perfluorochemicals (PFCs). 3M reformulated Scotchgard in 2000, under pressure from EPA following a series of alarming company-sponsored studies surfaced linking the Scotchgard chemical (PFOS) to birth defects and showing it to be a ubiquitous contaminant in human blood. The Teflon-related chemical called PFOA has since been linked to similar concerns, and DuPont and other manufacturers are under intense regulatory and legal pressure to reduce their use of this chemical and to clean up PFOA pollution around the country. Nevertheless, PFCs that are made from or that break down to PFOA in the body or the environment are still widely used in coatings that make products ranging from food packaging to household furniture water-repellant, grease-proof, and stain-resistant.

PFCs like Scotchgard and Teflon are now in the rogues gallery of toxic, extraordinarily persistent chemicals that contaminate human blood and wildlife the world over (over 90% of Americans are showing PFOA in our bloodstream). As more studies pour in, PFCs seems destined to join DDT, PCBs, dioxin and other chemicals that are among the most notorious, global chemical contaminants ever produced. Thanks in part to EWG's hard work, in 2006 major manufacturers signed a voluntary phaseout of PFOA by 2015, but the chemical is still on the market for now.

Here's some more information on Teflon, Scotchgard, and PFCs Got a question for our researchers? Send it in! We'll select one (or a few) for next month's edition of Ask EWG.

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