‘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 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
Attached are EWG comments on EPA’s decision to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.Read More
A piece of legislation winding its way through the California legislature could be the biggest influence on U.S. cosmetics safety for close to a century. The bill would ban a dozen of the most concerning ingredients commonly found in cosmetics sold in California.Read More
The toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS belong to a family with hundreds of different members. They are linked to an array of health risks, including cancer, thyroid disruption, reproductive and developmental harms, reduced effectiveness of vaccines and high cholesterol. But in its efforts to address the widespread PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, the Pentagon has largely focused on the most notorious of these so-called forever chemicals.Read More
At least 2,500 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS into the air and water, according to an updated EWG analysis of government data. But one state has seen substantial drops in industrial PFAS discharges: Michigan. Now other states are learning from Michigan’s success.Read More
Research by the Environmental Working Group and the PFAS Project at Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, or SSEHRI, has helped to map the crisis of contamination with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, now recorded at more than 1,400 locations in 49 states.Read More
Firefighting foam is one of the most significant sources of water contamination from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS-based firefighting foams have been widely used by the military, fire training centers and airports for five decades, even though the Pentagon has known since the 1970s that PFAS is toxic.Read More
Removal of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS from drinking water costs local communities millions of dollars, says a new Environmental Working Group study, published today in the European water industry journal Water Solutions. The study documented the severe threat PFAS poses to drinking water safety, emphasizing that preventing ongoing discharges of PFAS is key to protecting public health.Read More
At least 2,500 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS into the air and water, according to an updated EWG analysis of government data.Read More
The toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are now confirmed or suspected at 678 military installations, according to EWG’s updated analysis of Defense Department records.Read More
Actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo applauded the introduction today of the Providing Financial Assistance to States for Testing and Treatment Act of 2020, or PFAS Testing and Treatment Act, by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).Read More
Colin O’Neil, EWG’s legislative director, issued the following statement on the introduction of the Providing Financial Assistance to States for Testing and Treatment Act of 2020, or PFAS Testing and Treatment Act, by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H).Read More
New studies by the Food and Drug Administration indicate that a common fluorinated chemical in food packaging and stain-resistant carpets and textiles is much more toxic than earlier studies by the chemical industry suggested.Read More
Scientists at the Environmental Working Group and Indiana University have for the first time conducted a review of 26 fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, and found that all display at least one characteristic of known human carcinogens.Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing multiple criminal inquiries into corporations that manufacture the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to a report by Bloomberg Environment.Read More