‘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 Environmental Protection Agency must take a series of steps to protect public health and the environment from the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from being incinerated or dumped in landfills, wrote more than 30 environmental and public health organizations in comments submitted to the agency this week.Read More
In 2019, in the absence of enforceable federal limits, New Hampshire became one of the first states to set its own drinking water standards for the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The Environmental Working Group submitted testimony to the Maine Committee on Health and Human Services on Legislative Document No.Read More
WASHINGTON – A new study heightens concerns about firefighters’ exposure to the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS: Nearly 99 percent of the fluorine found in tests of dust from inside fire stations likely came from unknown PFAS chemicals that could not be identified as one that researchers had tested for.Read More
On Thursday, a congressional investigation revealed it had found that a number of widely sold baby food brands are tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. The investigation, led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, highlights major failures within the Food and Drug Administration.Read More
To protect the health of people, communities and the environment, the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS should not be regulated one by one but as a class, more than a dozen scientists, including this author, argue in an article published today in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.Read More
Firefighters take enormous risks to protect us. Now it’s time to protect them from the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The Environmental Working Group submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting TSCA 8(e) enforcement for Solvay’s failure to submit key health and safety studies within a timely manner.Read More
Solvay Specialty Chemicals failed for up to eight years to report animal and human tests showing the health hazards of one or more of the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, the Environmental Working Group charged today in a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency. For multiple violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act, EWG asked the EPA to levy civil and criminal fines totaling $434 million,Read More
Today DuPont, Chemours and Corteva announced a cost-sharing agreement worth $4 billion to settle lawsuits involving the historic use of the highly toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
Today the Environmental Protection Agency took two long-overdue preliminary actions toward regulating the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in Americans’ tap water, committing to set legal limits for the two most notorious PFAS compounds and to test public water systems for more than two dozen others.Read More
In yet another 11th-hour rollback of public health protections, political leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency overruled career scientists and watered down a major health assessment for one of the most toxic “forever chemicals” estimated to contaminate the drinking water for nearly 1 million Americans.Read More
Newly released test data from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency show that more than 100 public water systems in the state are contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The FY 2021 omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress Monday night provides nearly $300 million for new investments to address the regulation and cleanup of the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Michael Regan as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, The New York Times reports. Regan, 44, currently North Carolina’s top environmental official, would be the second Black person to lead the agency charged with protecting public health and the environment, after Lisa Jackson, who headed the EPA during President Obama’s second term.Read More
In his campaign’s environmental justice plan, President-elect Joe Biden made a historic commitment to tackle contamination from the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. One critical promise in his plan is to designate the two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law.Read More
A federal health agency is investigating whether exposure to the fluorinated "forever chemicals" called PFAS could affect the potential effectiveness and duration of a Covid-19 vaccine.Read More
Today Amazon announced it will ban the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from its Amazon Kitchen brand products.Read More
A House-Senate conference committee approved a final version of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, for 2020, which both houses will vote on before it goes to the White House for President Trump’s signature or veto.Read More