How Teflon went from wartime to lunch time.
PTFE was accidentally discovered in 1938 by Roy J. Plunkett while he was working in New Jersey for DuPont. Teflon is the trade name for a plastic material called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which was discovered by researchers working for the DuPont chemical company in 1938.
There are thousands of uses for Teflon, and some are relatively unexpected. In fact, one of the first major applications to use the advancements brought on by the development of Teflon was the Atomic Bomb! Teflon’s high resistance to corrosion allowed scientist to use it as a barrier in the gaskets that held the uranium within the bomb.By 1948, DuPont, which founded Kinetic Chemicals in partnership with General Motors, was producing over two million pounds (900 tons) of Teflon brand PTFE per year in Parkersburg, West Virginia. An early use was in the Manhattan Project (Atomic Program that led to Hiroshima & Nagasaki Nuclear Bombings) as a material to coat valves and seals in the pipes holding highly reactive uranium hexafluoride at the vast K-25 uranium enrichment plant.
Teflon’s Toxic Legacy: 3M and DuPont covered up the health risks of C8 in 20th Century.
It all began in 1945, when DuPont, renamed DowDuPont following its 2017 merger with Dow Chemical, began manufacturing Teflon, a product best known for its use in non-stick cookware, but also widely used in a variety of other consumer products, including waterproof clothing and furniture, food packaging, self-cleaning ovens, airplanes and cars.
One of the key ingredients in DuPont’s Teflon was C8, a toxic, man-made chemical created by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, better known as 3M, to make Scotchgard. The chemical, also known as PFOS or PFOA, is what gave Teflon its non-stick properties.
Both 3M and DuPont were well aware of the health hazards associated with C8. But that didn’t stop DuPont from dumping the toxic chemical into local waterways, where it made its way into public drinking water and subsequently sickened thousands of people, and ultimately killing many of them.
Stories from a number of people who were affected by DuPont’s Teflon, including DuPont employees, children and adults in the surrounding community, as well as pets, livestock and wildlife.
One of those stories is that of Sue Bailey, a former DuPont employee who gave birth to a son with severe deformities. Her son, William Bailey, aka Bucky, was born with half of a nose, one nostril, a serrated eyelid and a keyhole pupil where his iris and retina were detached.
Sue’s work for DuPont required her to come in direct contact with C8. Her job involved working in a large room with huge cylinders filled with C8. The cylinders would bubble over like an out-of-control bubble bath, according to the film. The Teflon production process left behind a discharge of water. It was Sue’s job to pump it out back, where it would flow directly into the river.
DuPont tried to blame Sue for her son’s birth defects. But she wasn’t buying it. On her first day back to work, she heard her co-workers talking about another DuPont employee who had given birth to a baby with deformities very similar to Bucky’s.
DuPont knew exposure to C8 could harm human health and cause birth defects. Both DuPont and 3M had been studying the chemical since the 1960s. One study on the chemical led by 3M, determined that the chemical could potentially cause birth defects in the eyes of rat fetuses.
Studies link Teflon chemical to six human diseases
Ken Wamsley, a former DuPont employee who worked for the company for 40 years. He said the first time he heard C8 was dangerous was from a supervisor who said it might hurt pregnant women. DuPont sent all the women home, but insisted the men were not at risk.
That turned out to be a bold-faced lie.
Today, we know that exposure to C8 in drinking water is linked to six different diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, preeclampsia and high cholesterol.
Evidence shows that DuPont knew for decades that exposure to C8 could cause long-term health effects in humans. DuPont started conducting cancer studies in 1988. The company’s own studies showed that exposure to C8 killed rats, dogs and monkeys, by causing testicular cancer, liver disease and pancreatic disease.
Teflon chemical is in the blood of 99 percent of Americans and soon will be in Indians too as the hazardous chemical PFA, is still unregulated in India.
Not only did DuPont continue to manufacture Teflon, but it also continued to dump the chemical into waterways.
In 2001, a class-action lawsuit was brought against DuPont by residents of the Ohio River Valley who had been exposed to C8 in their drinking water. DuPont agreed to settle the suit, offering the plaintiffs $343 million.
C8 contamination is so widespread that, according to this article in the Intercept, 99 percent of Americans have the chemical in their blood. It’s also been found in the blood of people from all parts of the world. The main sources of exposure are still somewhat of a mystery. The likely culprits, though, are industrial waste and the consumer products that shed C8 over time.
PFAS are still unregulated in India and will cause diseases like cancer in upcoming times.
The report clearly states that India joined as a party to the Stockholm Convention in 2006 and in turn, the Convention included India’s name to the PFA global restriction list in 2009. But, India has not accepted this amendment till now.
Yes, No PFAS substances are regulated in the country. India became a Party to the Stockholm Convention in 2006 and the treaty added PFOS to its global restriction list in 2009. However, India has not accepted the amendment listing this substance and it is unregulated, along with other PFAS.
IPEN researchers also conducted a small case study in Delhi. They found that non-stick cookware were sold under two categories: one was PFOA-coated and the other was PFOA-free cookware. PFOA is Perfluorooctanoic Acid and is known as an emerging health concern.
“Brands which sell PFOA-free cookware, usually label the product. But this label is not completely fool-proof and it is likely that many of these manufacturers are simply using fluoropolymers made without using PFOA,” state the researchers.
Fluorine-free alternatives include silicone-, ceramic- or enamel-based coatings. More research is required to be done in India to establish the constitution and shifts in the coated cookware market, states the report.
Breast milk is contaminated with PFAS substances A 2008 study found significant PFAS levels for PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFBS in women from Chidambaram, Kolkata, and Chennai.
Overall, average PFOS levels in Indian breast milk averaged 46 ppt – more than 2 times higher than the drinking water health advisory limit of 20 ppt for PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA combined in the US State of Vermont. The highest level of PFOA exposure in Indian breast milk was more than 16 times higher than this drinking water limit!
PFAS pollutes river, groundwater, and drinking water, a 2016 study found 15 PFAS in one or more locations in Ganges River surface water with levels ranging from 1.3 – 15.9 ppt. Short-chain PFAS (C5 – C8) were found more frequently and the authors indicate that this is likely due to ongoing substitution by industry.
The study calculated the mean cumulative PFOS and PFOA discharges to the whole Ganges catchment area to be 240 g/day for PFOS and 210 g/day for PFOA. This area covers a population of approximately 400 million people. PFOS could not be detected at the River’s origin in Rishikesh, but levels gradually increased downstream and elevated at the confluence with the Yamuna River in Allahabad. The study also found PFAS in groundwater – which is used for drinking water as well as irrigation purposes in most of the Ganges basin.
Fourteen PFAS were frequently detected and PFHxA and PFHpA were detected in all samples. The highest intakes per kg body weight were observed for children. Another study found that the Noyyal River contains significant levels of PFOA at 93 ppt and PFOS at 29 ppt. The authors note that this could be due to extensive industrial activity in this area including textile factories that dump directly into the river. PFOS has been found in the Cooum River (3.91 ppt) and in untreated sewage (12 ppt). Tap water samples from Goa, Coimbatore, and Chennai did not contain PFOS or PFOA – but shorter chain PFAS such as PFHxS (81 ppt) instead. Note that this is four time higher than the health advisory limit in US State of Vermont which sets a drinking water health advisory limit of 20 ppt for PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA combined.
What can you do about it and how can you avoid PFAs Chemical exposure?
- Avoid buying fabrics treated with nonstick chemicals such as:
- Use stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
- Skip optional stain-repellant treatment on new carpets and furniture.
- Eat less fast food and skip the microwave popcorn.
Where are PFAS Chemicals Found?
EWG’s Tap Water Database, based on tests by almost 5,000 utilities nationwide, shows that the drinking water supply of at least 16 million Americans in 33 states is contaminated with one or more nonstick chemicals. Many more people were not told that their drinking water contains harmful levels of PFAS, because the test information was not made public. From what EWG has been able learn about this secret data, we estimate that 110 million Americans’ drinking water is contaminated with PFAS.
If PFAS chemicals have been detected in your water, reverse osmosis and activated carbon filters may be effective for reducing or removing the contaminants.
PFAS chemicals are widely used to coat paper and cardboard wrappers for fast food and bakery goods.
To avoid them, skip pre-cooked, packaged foods. Cut back on fast food and greasy carryout food and cook at home instead. Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way – on the stovetop. The inside of microwaveable popcorn bags is nearly always coated with PFAS chemicals. And check out EWG’s 2017 report showing that nearly all major brands use PFAS-treated wrappers.
Dozens of personal care products, including dental floss, contain PFAS ingredients. Choose personal care products without “PTFE” or “fluoro” ingredients.
The most prominent sources of PTFE, the chemical name for Teflon, are nonstick pans and utensils.
Avoid these products by choosing stainless steel and cast iron cookware instead.
Textile products labeled Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster or Gore-Tex, and clothes labeled stain- or water-repellent, usually contain PFAS chemicals. Although many responsible clothing companies are seeking safer alternatives, few of these options have made it to market so far.
6. Home Goods
PFAS chemicals nearly always lurk in stain-resistant furniture and carpets, as well as in spray treatments for leather and fabric protection. Avoid the coated products when possible and skip optional stain-repellant treatments.