PFAS Chemicals

‘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.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The House passed a major defense spending bill today that includes important amendments requiring the Defense Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor and clean up the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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News Release
Friday, July 12, 2019

The House of Representatives today approved an amendment to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the Superfund law.

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News Release
Friday, July 12, 2019

Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, who was stationed for many years at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, lost his daughter Janey, in 1985, at the age of nine from leukemia after she was exposed to toxic chemicals while living on base.

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News Release
Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, harm to the reproductive system, and harm to the immune system.

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Environmental Working Group has confirmed the presence of the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS at almost 100 new sites. 

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Key Issues:
News Release
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

This week, the House will consider amendments to quickly end the military’s use of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging, and place limits on PFAS discharges into drinking water supplies.

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News Release
Friday, July 5, 2019

Every day more toxic nonstick chemicals are being discovered in our water, food and homes.

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Children's Health
Article
Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Per-and polyfluorinated substances, known as PFAS, are often characterized as “emerging contaminants.” However, ask the residents living in the communities polluted by decades of unregulated discharges of these chemicals and they’ll tell you that it’s a contamination crisis that has arrived long ago.

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News and Analysis
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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

EWG today applauded Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) for introducing legislation to regulate discharges of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS into rivers, lakes and bays.

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News Release
Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Senate today passed a defense spending bill including a bipartisan amendment to dramatically expand efforts to monitor the scope of the PFAS contamination crisis and eliminate a major source of the contamination.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Amendments proposed Tuesday to the House version of a must-pass defense bill would dramatically expand efforts to monitor and clean up contamination of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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News Release
Friday, June 21, 2019

Toxic PFAS chemicals, notorious for contaminating drinking water supplies across the U.S., are harmful to nearly every human organ, and the immune system is particularly vulnerable. PFAS mixtures, which are used in a variety of consumer products, can be found in the bodies of nearly every American and in the developing fetus.

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News and Analysis
Article
Saturday, June 15, 2019

A bipartisan amendment proposed for the Senate version of an annual defense spending bill would dramatically expand efforts to monitor the scope of the toxic PFAS chemical contamination crisis.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Laboratory tests conducted nearly 20 years ago that have gone largely unreported found high levels of the toxic fluorinated chemical known as PFAS a number of popular supermarket foods.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The House of Representatives will soon consider a must-pass piece of legislation that includes a provision to prohibit the use on military installations of firefighting foam containing the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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Key Issues:
News Release
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The two top officials with the Food and Drug Administration today dismissed test results by the agency’s own scientists that found high levels of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in food.

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News Release
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

At least 475 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS into the air and water, according to an EWG analysis of government data.

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News and Analysis
Article
Monday, June 3, 2019

A recent investigation by the Food and Drug Administration found per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS,  in food, including meat, seafood and dairy products; sweet potatoes; pineapples; leafy greens, and chocolate cake with icing.

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News and Analysis
Article
Friday, May 24, 2019

The Senate will soon consider a must-pass piece of legislation, including a provision to prohibit the use on military installations of firefighting foam containing the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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News Release
Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing today to consider a number of legislative proposals that would begin to address the growing public health crisis from exposure to the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

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