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:

Watch our short webinar to learn more:
  • 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

PBS NewsHour: What are PFASs, the toxic chemicals being found in dri…

  The researchers suggest the broad spread of PFASs in water sources is partly from fire fighting foams and sprays used in training simulations by the …

12 Aug 2016

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TIME: How to Find Out If Your Drinking Water Is Safe

  To find out if your local water supply does contain PFASs in excessive amounts, the EPA says your county health department may help you test it. If …

10 Aug 2016

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NPR: Federal Data Shows Firefighting Chemicals In U.S. Drinking Wate…

  The chemicals showed up more often near sites where these firefighting chemicals are common, such as airports or military bases. "During firefig…

09 Aug 2016

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CNN: Study: Public water supply is unsafe for millions of Americans

  PFASs seem to be everywhere. They are found "in wildlife and human tissue and bodily fluids all over the globe," explained Arlene Blum, a co-author…

09 Aug 2016

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Chemical Watch: PFCs in drinking water link to human blood levels

Californian researchers have found a possible link between blood levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), in the general population, and concentratio…

15 Jun 2016

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