Consumers’ Guide to Highly Fluorinated Chemicals

FEATURED: Click here for our Myths versus Facts sheet about short-chain and other alternative highly fluorinated chemicals.

“Stain-resistant, nonstick, waterproof and lethal” is how journalist Callie Lyons describes a highly fluorinated chemical called C8. This chemical leaked into the water supply near production facilities in West Virginia and Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of people were found to have C8 in their bodies and a wide range of health problems associated with this exposure.

But such exposure is not just a problem for people living near chemical plants. This affects all of us, because we are exposed to highly fluorinated chemicals like C8 from a variety of consumer products we commonly use, such as clothing, carpets, cosmetics, and more.

Infographic_Highly Fluorinated Chemicals

Why are highly fluorinated chemicals harmful?

Highly fluorinated chemicals contain carbon-fluorine (C-F) bonds, which are some of the strongest bonds in nature. That makes them both incredibly resistant to breakdown and very useful. For instance, they can make products grease or stain-resistant, nonstick, or waterproof. However, this comes at a cost.

The highly fluorinated chemicals that have been well-studied have been associated with:

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  • testicular and kidney cancer
  • liver malfunction
  • hormonal changes
  • thyroid disruption
  • high cholesterol
  • obesity
  • ulcerative colitis
  • lower birth weight and size

Other highly fluorinated chemicals are suspected of similarly causing health problems, but have not been well tested.

Because they are resistant to breakdown, these chemicals can persist in our bodies for years. In the environment, they can last for millions of years. This means that the highly fluorinated chemicals released during our lifetimes will build up in the environment, and many future generations will be exposed to them, at even higher levels than we are today.

Madrid for Webpage copy

Scientists from all over the world signed the Madrid Statement to share their concerns about highly fluorinated chemicals and are asking for a limit to the production and use of these chemicals. Find out more here.
On May 1, 2015, the Madrid Statement was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a high-impact scientific journal. Click here to read the article, here to read an accompanying editorial by distinguished scientists Linda Birnbaum and Phillipe Grandjean, here to read the reply from the chemical industry, and here for our response.


How are we exposed?

Exposure pathways

Highly fluorinated chemicals are used in consumer products such as cookware, clothing, outdoor apparel, carpeting, and food packaging to provide nonstick, oil- and water resistant properties. They are also used in some kinds of cosmetics.

We are exposed to them by direct contact with these products, but also through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

They have been detected at high levels in humans and wildlife all over the globe.


What can you do?

Ask yourself, “Do I really need products that are stain-resistant, nonstick, or waterproof?” Knowing the consequences, you might choose to give up some conveniences or product performance.

Steps you can take:

  • Avoid products that are oil repellant or stain resistant.
  • Only purchase waterproof gear when you really need it.
  • Avoid cosmetics with PTFE or any word containing “perfluor” or “polyfluor” on their ingredients list.
  • Replace your Teflon nonstick cookware with cast iron, glass, or ceramic.
  • Avoid microwave popcorn and greasy foods wrapped in paper.
  • Tell retailers and manufacturers you want products without fluorinated chemicals.
  • Support companies committed to phasing out highly fluorinated chemicals, such as the apparel brands that have joined Greenpeace’s Detox campaign, and the fast food chains that removed them from food packaging as a result of EWG’s action.

All products from these apparel brands will be free of highly fluorinated chemicals after those dates.

You can drive change for healthy products!


In the Media

Press: Highly Fluorinated Chemicals

Michigan Radio: Am I at risk? How do you clean it up? A PFAS expert …

PFAS is an acronym for a group of industrial chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They've been used since the '50s, in everythin…

18 Jan 2018

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CBS This Morning: Are toxic chemicals at Air Force bases leading to …

For 25 years, Dan Cruz delivered mail at the Peterson Air Force Base and drank the water. Then came cancer – thyroid, prostate, testicular – he said neve…

08 Jan 2018

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AL.com: Substitute chemicals for cancer-linked PFCs may also be harm…

A pair of long-lasting, man-made chemicals called PFOA and PFOS have generated controversy and lawsuits in recent years, worldwide and in Alabama, but a …

22 Feb 2017

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The Hans India: Greasepaper packaging contains harmful chemicals

We may opt to cut back on fast food to avoid an overload of fat and calories. Yet, there is another reason to resist the temptation to indulge in fast food. The grease…

04 Feb 2017

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Times Herald-Record: Study: Toxic chemicals in Newburgh water, local…

  The family of toxic chemicals that includes the ones behind the closure of the City of Newburgh's primary water supply and the contamination of p…

02 Feb 2017

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Bloomberg: Burgers Aren’t the Only Fast-Food Products That Could Har…

  The risky chemicals that keep cooking grease from leaking out of fast-food containers are widespread, according to a peer-revie…

02 Feb 2017

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Crain's Chicago Business: Fast-food wrappers may contain dangerous c…

The risky chemicals that keep cooking grease from leaking out of fast-food containers are widespread, according to a peer-reviewed study released Wednesday. Researc…

02 Feb 2017

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Michigan Radio: Study finds fluorinated chemicals in fast food packa…

Listen A new study found fluorinated chemicals in one third of the fast food packages researchers tested. The chemicals keep oil and grease from le…

02 Feb 2017

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Fusion: Another reason to avoid fast food: Its packaging might conta…

  Fast food obviously isn’t great for your health, but a new study from the Silent Spring Institute is providing even more incentive to cut back…

01 Feb 2017

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WebMD: Many Fast-Food Containers Have Risky Chemical

  The next time you get a muffin with your coffee or pick up a hamburger at a drive-thru, you could also be getting a side of chemicals that have…

01 Feb 2017

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Fair Warning: Ketchup or PFAS With Those Fries?

   As if cheeseburgers, fries and microwave popcorn weren’t enough of a dietary worry, now comes word that fast-food packaging is also a cause for concer…

01 Feb 2017

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CBS SF - KPIX 5: Study: Fast Food Wrappers Contain Cancer-Causing Ch…

  You already knew fast food wasn’t the healthiest option, but a new study is revealing a new health concern, in the packaging. Fluorinated chemical…

01 Feb 2017

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