‘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.
EWG has submitted comments to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control on the agency’s proposed listing of carpets and rugs containing PFAS chemicals as a priority product for review as part of the Safer Consumer Products Program.
Exposure to fluorinated industrial chemicals, known as PFAS or PFC chemicals, may increase the amount of weight that people, especially women, regain after dieting, according to a new study by Harvard University researchers, published in PLOS Medicine. It found that women with higher levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood at the start of the study regained an average of 3.7 to 4.8 pounds more than women with lower levels of the chemicals in their blood.Read More
On Wednesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the first state law to ban toxic fluorinated chemicals in food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and fast-food wrappers.Read More
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt will hold a summit in May on the pervasive contamination of the nation’s drinking water with highly fluorinated chemicals.Read More
In a groundbreaking move, California has proposed that carpets and rugs containing the stain-resistant fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS should be considered a priority product under the state’s Safer Consumer Products program.Read More
EWG submits comments to New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection in support of the state’s proposal to lower the Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOS in drinking water.Read More
It’s not just a poor diet and lack of exercise that can make kids overweight.Read More
The phaseout of a hazardous chemical formerly used to make Teflon has likely prevented thousands of low-weight births in the U.S. each year, saving billions of dollars in health care costs, says a new study from researchers at New York University.Read More
How many times a day do you drink water? Cook with it? Brush your teeth with it? Offer some to your children?Read More
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 1 percent of samples from public drinking water systems nationwide were contaminated with PFOA, a nonstick chemical formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon.Read More
Robert Bilott, the Ohio attorney who exposed DuPont's cover-up of the dangers of a cancer-causing Teflon chemical, is a 2017 laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the "alternative Nobel Prize."Read More
When it comes to PFOA, an extremely potent toxic chemical formerly used to make Teflon, President Trump’s nominee to oversee chemical safety at the Environmental Protection Agency has a sticky history.Read More
Three hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly added to processed foods, waterproof clothing and other everyday products may cause obesity.
Michael Dourson, President Trump’s expected nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office, has made a career of helping industry stave off or weaken regulations on toxic chemicals.Read More
This week, EWG released two reports.
New research from EWG and Northeastern University in Boston uncovered highly fluorinated toxic chemicals, known as PFCs or PFASs, in the drinking water of 15 million Americans in 27 states, and from more than four dozen industrial and military sources nationwide.Read More
The known extent of the contamination of U.S. communities with PFCs – highly fluorinated toxic chemicals, also known as PFASs, that have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems – continues to expand with no end in sight. New research from EWG and Northeastern University in Boston details PFC pollution in tap water supplies for 15 million Americans in 27 states and at more than four dozen industrial and military sources from Maine to California.Read More
Legislation introduced today would make California the first state to ban perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, from fast food wrappers and takeout containers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on any given day one in three American children – no matter their age, race or family income – eat fast food. Hamburgers, french fries, burritos, pizza and other fast food items are often served in paper wrappers or boxes coated with grease-repellent perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, that may harm children’s health.
Banning or restricting toxic chemicals one at a time is like fighting the mythical hydra: For each head cut off, multiple replacements appear that may be just as hazardous. There's no better example than PFCs, the nonstick chemicals used in DuPont's Teflon and many other consumer products.Read More