The ‘Forever Chemicals’ in 99% of Americans
Hundreds of everyday products are made with highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS. They build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment. Very small doses of PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases.
For decades, chemical companies covered up evidence of PFAS’ health hazards. Today nearly all Americans, including newborn babies, have PFAS in their blood, and up to 110 million people may be drinking PFAS-tainted water. What began as a “miracle of modern chemistry” is now a national crisis.
What Are PFAS?
In 1946, DuPont introduced nonstick cookware coated with Teflon. Today the family of fluorinated chemicals that sprang from Teflon includes thousands of nonstick, stain-repellent and waterproof compounds called PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.
PFAS are used in a staggering array of consumer products and commercial applications. Decades of heavy use have resulted in contamination of water, soil and the blood of people and animals in the farthest corners of the world. PFAS are incredibly persistent, never breaking down in the environment and remaining in our bodies for years.
DuPont invented the PFAS chemical patented as Teflon, but 3M became its main manufacturer. In 2001, a scandal erupted in Parkersburg, W.Va., after discovery of the Teflon chemical in the drinking water of tens of thousands of people near a DuPont plant. (The story is documented in the film “The Devil We Know.”)
A class-action lawsuit uncovered evidence DuPont knew PFAS was hazardous and had contaminated tap water but didn’t tell its workers, local communities or environmental officials. The lawsuit also triggered studies linking the Teflon chemical to cancer and other diseases.
What Are the Health Risks of PFAS?
The most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, the Teflon chemical, and PFOS, an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – were phased out in the U.S. under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency after revelations of their hidden hazards. (They are still permitted in items imported to this country.) Numerous studies link these and closely related PFAS chemicals to:
- Testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancer.
- Reproductive problems
- Weakened childhood immunity
- Low birth weight
- Endocrine disruption
- Increased cholesterol
- Weight gain in children and dieting adults
PFOA, PFOS and the related phased-out compounds are called “long chain” chemicals because they contain eight carbon atoms. Since these chemicals have been phased out, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration have recklessly allowed the introduction of scores of “short chain” replacements, with six carbon atoms.
Chemical companies claim this structure makes them safer. But DuPont admits that the short-chain chemical GenX causes cancerous tumors in lab animals. A 2019 Auburn University study found that short-chains may pose even worse risks than long-chains, which supports scientists’ growing agreement that the entire class of PFAS are hazardous.
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