‘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.
Rob Bilott’s Exposure is a real-life whodunit, a page-turning courtroom drama, a David-and-Goliath story of one man against an industrial colossus and a shocking exposé of America’s utterly broken environmental policy. You should also take this book personally – because the “exposure” of the title is yours.Read More
More than 700 Department of Defense sites are likely to be contaminated with the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, according to new data released this week by the Pentagon.Read More
A study of almost 50,000 births in Minnesota is reportedly the first to establish a cause-and-effect link between high levels of the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in drinking water and higher rates of infertility, premature birth and low birth weight babies.Read More
Suspected industrial dischargers of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are located less than a mile of 27 schools or childcare facilities that maintain their own water systems, an EWG analysis finds.Read More
As parents send their kids back to school, reopening buildings safely is top of mind. Parents are worried about the coronavirus pandemic but likely unaware that some schools are near industrial facilities known or suspected of producing or using the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The California legislature approved a measure to address the growing contamination crisis of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. The bill would ban the chemicals in PFAS-based firefighting foams, like aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF – one of the most significant sources of PFAS water contamination. The bill now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until the end of September to act on it.Read More
The California legislature passed Assembly Bill 2762, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. This landmark legislation bans 12 toxic ingredients, such as PFAS, mercury and formaldehyde, which are already prohibited from cosmetics and other personal care products sold in the European Union and other countries. The law now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom.Read More
The Environmental Working Group submitted written comments to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council with recommendations on the necessary measures for addressing the PFAS contamination crisis.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency canceled a study to look into the incineration of the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. The study would have burned toxic PFAS and measured the amount released into the air at the Union County Resource Recovery Facility on the Rahway River in New Jersey.Read More
From the beginning, the Trump administration has aggressively slashed environmental regulations. A New York Times analysis identified 100 environmental protections that have been reversed or are in the process of getting rolled back. The administration’s record on chemical safety has been especially hazardous for the health of Americans, especially children.Read More
Environmental Working Group presented comments to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, urging the Council to consider both historical and current PFAS contamination and to ensure that fence-line communities remain protected from thRead More
Current methods of managing waste from toxic “forever chemicals” don’t work – and in fact, perpetuate the cycle of contamination, according to peer-reviewed research by scientists from the Environmental Working Group.Read More
Today the California Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, A.B. 2762, passed out of the State Senate Environmental Quality Committee. If enacted, the law would be the first in the nation to ban 12 toxic ingredients, including mercury and formaldehyde, from the beauty and personal care products Californians use every day.Read More
Three spending bills proposed by the House will make historic investments to address the regulation and cleanup of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
More than a dozen reforms to reduce and remediate pollution from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS were included in the annual Department of Defense spending bill that passed the House today.Read More
In a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Chemosphere, scientists at the Environmental Working Group conclude that burning, discarding and flushing waste containing the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS all contribute to environmental contamination. The three standard practices for waste management outlined in the review – landfilling, wastewater treatment and incineration – do not effectively contain or destroy PFAS.Read More
The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to include critical reforms to the regulation of toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021, which funds the Department of Defense.Read More
In a study published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, a group of U.S. and international scientists emphasized that the current approach to regulating and managing the harm of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS has failed to protect public health. The study recommended a new approach that classifies all PFAS as concerning and calls for an end to all non-essential use.Read More
This week the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule regulating the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in consumer products. True to form for the Trump administration, the rule significantly weakens a public health protection proposed under the Obama administration.Read More