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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.
  • If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, consider installing an in-home filter on your tap. EWG summarized what is known about the efficacy of the different filter options here.

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

You can drive change for healthy products!

Resources

In the Media

Press: Highly Fluorinated Chemicals

Michigan Radio: Michigan Will Spend $1.7 Million to Test for PFAS in…

Michigan will spend $1.7 million to test water supplies around the state for certain kinds of industrial chemical contaminants. The chemicals are known …

18 May 2018

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Truthout: In Search of Safe Replacements for Harmful Chemicals Used …

When Donald Taves discovered two kinds of fluoride in his blood in the late 1960s, he immediately knew something was wrong. Everyone assumed that blood co…

11 May 2018

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ChemicalWatch: US Body Abandons Plans for New Flammability Standard

The National Fire Protection Association in the US has voted to halt development of a new flammability standard for residential upholstered furniture. Th…

24 Apr 2018

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Toronto Star: Toxic Chemical Laws are Not Protecting Human Health

Most people assume a chemical in their clothes, cosmetics or couch has been thoroughly tested for safety. Unfortunately, such testing is often nowhere near …

02 Apr 2018

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Ensia: In Search of Safe Replacements for Harmful Chemicals Used in …

When Donald Taves discovered two kinds of fluoride in his blood in the late 1960s, he immediately knew something was wrong. Everyone assumed that blood contai…

26 Mar 2018

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Circle of Blue: Perfluorinated Chemicals Health Study Included in Co…

House and Senate negotiators secured $10 million in the fiscal year 2018 budget for a study of people on military bases who were exposed to perfluorinated …

22 Mar 2018

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Colorado Springs Business Journal: Chemicals Most Seminal Health Cha…

In January 2016, the CSBJ reported highly fluorinated toxic industrial chemicals called PFCs contaminated drinking water provided to more than 80,000 re…

16 Feb 2018

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Health.com: How to Avoid Harmful Environmental Chemicals or PFAS

A common class of chemicals that’s been linked to cancer, fertility problems, and thyroid dysfunction has now been tied to another major health issue: A…

14 Feb 2018

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Michigan Radio: Residents in Oscoda Wonder Why State Didn't Act on P…

At least 14 communities in Michigan have water contaminated with a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. One of th…

18 Jan 2018

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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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Capitol Weekly: The Toxic Chemical 'Whack-a-Mole' Game

When her black cat rapidly dropped from a healthy 14 pounds to a skeletal five pounds, it was natural for Arlene Blum to investigate whether a toxic chemi…

09 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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