‘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.
In the wake of the Trump administration’s rollback of more than 100 federal environmental regulations, California has again showed leadership, with new laws to protect public health. In the past two years, EWG’s team in Sacramento shepherded numerous legislative proposals to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, with nearly every bill signed into law.Read More
EWG submitted comments to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee to recommend the prioritization of four per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), soRead More
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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 body of nearly every American and in the developing fetus.Read More
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The Big Bang of the nationwide “forever chemicals” crisis was the revelation in 2001 that PFOA, a toxic compound used to make Teflon, had contaminated the drinking water for 70,000 people near a DuPont factory in West Virginia. Pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency forced DuPont and other companies to phase out PFOA, and they agreed not to use it after 2015.Read More
It’s been 18 months since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its plan to address the crisis of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which a new peer-reviewed study by EWG scientists estimates have likely contaminated the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans.Read More
A peer-reviewed study by scientists at the Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 200 million Americans could have the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or ppt, or higher. Independent scientific studies have recommended a safe level for PFAS in drinking water of 1 ppt, a standard that is endorsed by EWG.Read More
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The Environmental Working Group and the Personal Care Products Council applaud California Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing into law Assembly Bill 2762, which prohibits the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products with certain ingredients in California. This landmark bill moves the industry one step closer to global regulatory alignment.Read More
Rob Bilott’s Exposure is a real-life whodunit, a page-turning courtroom drama, a David-and-Goliath story of one man against an industrial colossus and a shocking exposé of America’s utterly broken environmental policy. You should also take this book personally – because the “exposure” of the title is yours.Read More
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A study of almost 50,000 births in Minnesota is reportedly the first to establish a cause-and-effect link between high levels of the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in drinking water and higher rates of infertility, premature birth and low birth weight babies.Read More
Suspected industrial dischargers of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are located less than a mile of 27 schools or childcare facilities that maintain their own water systems, an EWG analysis finds.Read More
As parents send their kids back to school, reopening buildings safely is top of mind. Parents are worried about the coronavirus pandemic but likely unaware that some schools are near industrial facilities known or suspected of producing or using the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.Read More
The California legislature approved a measure to address the growing contamination crisis of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS. The bill would ban the chemicals in PFAS-based firefighting foams, like aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF – one of the most significant sources of PFAS water contamination. The bill now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until the end of September to act on it.Read More
The California legislature passed Assembly Bill 2762, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. This landmark legislation bans 12 toxic ingredients, such as PFAS, mercury and formaldehyde, which are already prohibited from cosmetics and other personal care products sold in the European Union and other countries. The law now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom.Read More
The Environmental Working Group submitted written comments to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council with recommendations on the necessary measures for addressing the PFAS contamination crisis.Read More