In an article published in the winter 2016 issue of Earth Island Journal, freelance writer Sharon Kelly reports on the environmental, public health, and legal consequences of the production and use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, CAS 335-67-1).
PFOA was widely applied and produced by chemical manufacturer DuPont as polymerization aid for its trademark material “Teflon” (polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE, CAS 9002-84-0), Kelly writes. Due to its water-repellent and grease-proof properties, PFOA is also directly used in e.g. fast food wrappers, waterproof clothing, electrical cables, and pizza boxes. Health risks of exposure to PFOA include cancer, liver disease, developmental problems, and thyroid disease, Kelly reports.
The production of PFOA has polluted air and drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley, where its main manufacturing sites have been located in the U.S.. PFOA is a very stable chemical and does not biodegrade, but rather bioaccumulates and builds up in people’s bodies, Kelly explains. Currently, 3,500 Ohio Valley residents have filed personal injury cases against DuPont for the adverse health effects they have suffered due to PFOA exposure. Kelly highlights that documents revealed during these legal cases show that the company knew of the environmental pollution and health risks associated with PFOA for decades and has kept them secret. Kelly further outlines how chemical manufacturers actively participated in shaping U.S. chemicals regulation, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Industry’s involvement lead to two major compromises: Industrial chemicals do not require safety testing before they go on the market and chemical identities can be claimed as trade secrets, Kelly explains. According to Bill Walker of the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), PFOA is “a poster child for the failures of U.S. toxic chemical law.”
Recently, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed bills to reform and improve TSCA (FPF reported). In August 2015, the EWG published a report suggesting that exposure to PFOA might not be safe at any level (FPF reported). PFOA is listed as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) on the Candidate List under the European regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and has additionally been proposed for restriction (FPF reported). However, PFOA is authorized as additive under the food contact plastic regulation (EU 10/2011).
Sharon Kelly (2016). “Teflon’s toxic legacy.” Earth Island Journal
Sharon Lerner (March 3, 2016). “A chemical shell game. How DuPont concealed the dangers of the new teflon toxin.” The Intercept
Sharon Lerner (March 3, 2016). “New teflon toxin causes cancer in lab animals.” The Intercept