‘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.
For nearly 70 years, chemical companies like 3M and DuPont have known that the highly fluorinated chemicals called PFAS build up in our blood. They’ve known for almost that long that PFAS chemicals have a toxic effect on our organs.Read More
As far back as 1950, studies conducted by 3M showed that the family of toxic fluorinated chemicals now known as PFAS could build up in our blood. By the 1960s, animal studies conducted by 3M and DuPont revealed that PFAS chemicals could pose health risks. But the companies kept the studies secret from their employees and the public for decades. Here is a timeline of internal memos, studies and other company documents detailing the two companies’ history of deception.Read More
A new peer-reviewed study refutes claims by the chemical industry that the next generation of toxic fluorinated compounds, or PFAS, is safer than two notorious PFAS chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases that were pulled off the market in the U.S.Read More
The recent discovery of fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, in food packaging should serve as a reminder that our diets are as big a source as drinking water of these toxic compounds in our bodies.Read More
When it comes to household waste, we all know the mantra: Reduce, reuse, recycle.Read More
The Defense Department will establish a new task force to address drinking water contamination from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS at military facilities and in nearby communities, according to a news release by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).Read More
Below and attached is EWG’s testimony to the Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for their hearing pertaining to PFAS contamination and the need for corporate accountability
In 2001, attorney Robert Bilott filed a federal class-action suit against DuPont for polluting the drinking water of more than 70,000 people in and around Parkersburg, W.Va., with PFOA, a Teflon chemical known within the company as C8. Bilott also wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency, supplying thousands of documents detailing DuPont’s decades-long coverup of the hazards of PFOA.Read More
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.Read More
The House of Representatives today approved an amendment to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the Superfund law.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
The Environmental Working Group has confirmed the presence of the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS at almost 100 new sites.Read More
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.Read More
Every day more toxic nonstick chemicals are being discovered in our water, food and homes.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More