‘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.
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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