Pefluorinated chemicals are ubiquitous in our lives; not only are they used to make nonstick pans, waterproof and stain-resistant treatment for fabrics, camping equipment, workout clothes, Goretex, dental floss, and food packaging, but the chemicals themselves lurk in all of our bodies. First produced the in the 1950s, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are organic molecules in which C-H bonds have been substituted with C-F bonds, giving them slippery, hydrophobic, low-friction properties.
This past May, scientists from around the world issued a statement urging consumers, governments, and companies to reduce and avoid the use of these substances due to their extreme persistence and toxicity.
Next month, the next round of lawsuits against DuPont, the maker of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, used to make Teflon) and other PFCs will go to trial. Following a class action lawsuit ten years ago, thousands of individuals are suing DuPont for exposure to PFCs, which have been epidemiologically linked to testicular and kidney cancers, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, lower birth weight and size, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty, and increased risk of miscarriage. Many of the plaintiffs are family members of those who have died from these conditions. (For references, see Madrid Statement).
DuPont knew for decades that PFOA caused cancer and was a risk to pregnant women, but covered up the evidence and continued to produce PFCs and dump the waste into the environment. Two recent investigated journalism series have been released on the story behind DuPont’s deception, and they are definitely worth a look:
- Maria Blake’s piece for Huffpost: Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia
- Sharon Lerner’s series for The Intercept: The Teflon Toxin
Read either or both, but just do it.
When you’re done, look at this interactive map from EWG that shows what counties’ water supplies are contaminated with PFCs. Scientists have also recently published that the “safe” limit for PFCs in water set by the EPA is probably 100x too high.
You may know that PFOA has been phased out, but keep in mind that the new chemicals replacing it are similar in structure, still fluorinated, and have many of the same heath risks; clearly, our chemical regulation system is broken.
The EWG has some useful resources for limited your own exposure to PFCs:
I’ve been trying to remove sources of exposure to PFCs by buying untreated clothing (Bluesign certified for workout gear), avoiding stain and waterproofing treatments, and phasing out my nonstick cookware. Unfortunately, it’s harder than I thought because even some of my most trusted companies (Patagonia, looking at you) still use fluorinated chemicals for waterproofing.