‘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.
A bill introduced today in Congress would ban the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS from use in a primary source of exposure to the compounds.Read More
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Shelley Capito (R-W.V.), introduced legislation today to require the Environmental Protection Agency to set a health-protective legal limit for toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, in drinking water.Read More
A bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced legislation today to improve cooperation between state regulators and federal agencies, including the Pentagon, to address PFAS contamination near government facilities and military installations.Read More
The known extent of contamination of American communities with the highly toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS continues to grow at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. A total of 610 locations in 43 states are now known to be affected, including drinking water systems serving an estimated 19 million people.Read More
In the almost 20 years since water pollution with toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, erupted as a public health issue, research has found impacts from exposure to ever-lower levels. Yet there are still no national, legally enforceable drinking water standards for any of the hundreds of PFAS compounds currently in use.Read More
The known extent of contamination of American communities with the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS continues to grow at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. As of March 2019, at least 610 locations in 43 states are known to be contaminated, including drinking water systems serving an estimated 19 million people.Read More
A bipartisan bill introduced in the House today would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set a health-protective legal limit in drinking water for the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which contaminate a rapidly growing roster of hundreds of public water systems nationwide.Read More
The draft interim recommendations for cleanup of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, announced today by Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler, are a woefully inadequate response to the growing nationwide crisis of drinking water contaminated with PFAS, said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews.Read More
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) have reintroduced a bill to help veterans, service members and their families with health problems potentially triggered by exposure to the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
Today Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), with members of the bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force, introduced the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act. This legislation will ensure that veterans and their families exposed to toxic fluorinated compounds at military installations get the health care services and benefits they need through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.Read More
In testimony today before a Senate appropriations committee, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler refused to support banning asbestos, one of the deadliest known carcinogens, and dodged questions about the health risks of PFAS chemicals, which have contaminated drinking water nationwide.Read More
Today Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) introduced bipartisan legislation to sample water for contamination with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.Read More
The Army is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars to fulfill a public records request from EWG seeking data on military sites where drinking water sources are contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals.Read More
The Pentagon is lobbying the White House to back woefully weak cleanup standards for PFAS chemicals, which contaminate water on or near hundreds of military bases, according to The New York Times.Read More
EWG News Roundup (3/8): Here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.Read More
Senate Democratic leaders today called on the Trump administration to turn over documentation of all communications between key agencies and the White House about plans to address the PFAS contamination crisis.Read More
Water sampled on or near at least 106 military sites was contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, above what EPA considers safe, according to Department of Defense data analyzed by EWG. But that’s only the tip of a toxic iceberg.Read More
The Environmental Working Group has identified and mapped 106 military sites in the U.S. where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, at levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health guideline. But this is only the tip of a toxic iceberg that is largely hidden and still growing.Read More