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.
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
- 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.
How are we exposed?
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.
- Fluorinated Alternatives: Myths versus Facts sheet about short-chain and other alternative highly fluorinated chemicals.
- PFAS in drinking water: the need for a coordinated strategy – a letter from scientists to policy makers.
- Global list of PFAS guideline values – a global compilation of PFAS guideline values for water, soil, and other matrices, as well as total daily intakes and blood health values. This list was compiled by Dr. Jimmy Seow, Department of Environment Regulation, Western Australia, and is up-to-date as of April, 2018.
- List of highly fluorinated chemicals in global commerce – from Appendix 2 of the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) report “Occurrence and use of highly fluorinated substances and alternatives”, published in 2015 (link to original report).
- SixClasses.org – a webinar series on the six classes of harmful chemicals commonly used in consumer products, including highly fluorinated chemicals.
- The Madrid Statement – a scientific consensus statement regarding the persistence and potential for harm of highly fluorinated chemicals, with a roadmap to reducing their use in consumer products. On May 1, 2015, The Madrid Statement was published in the high-impact scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives – find it here.
- Alternatives to PFASs: Perspectives on the Science – an editorial about the Madrid Statement by distinguished scientists Linda Birnbaum and Philippe Grandjean.
- Comment on “Fluorotechnology Is Critical to Modern Life: The FluoroCouncil Counterpoint to the Madrid Statement” – our comments on the FluoroCouncil’s response to the Madrid Statement
- The Helsingør Statement – a summary of the key scientific concerns about the potential impacts of fluorinated alternatives on human health and the environment.
- Our extensive bibliography.
- Poisoned Legacy – an investigative report on highly fluorinated chemicals from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- EWG’s Guide to Avoiding PFCs – a factsheet on highly fluorinated chemicals from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- EnviroWIKI PFASs – a wiki focusing on remediation of soil and groundwater contaminated by highly fluorinated chemicals.
In the Media
- NPR, Christopher Joyce. Federal Data Shows Firefighting Chemicals in U.S. Drinking Water Sources
- CBS Consumer Watch, Wilson Walker, Fire-Suppressing Foam’s Toxic Chemicals Detected In California Groundwater
- PBS NewsHour, Mark Scialla What are PFASs, the toxic chemicals being found in drinking water?
- Goop, What We Need to Know About PFOAs.
- New York Times Magazine, Nathaniel Rich. The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare.
- Civil Eats, Elizabeth Grossman. The FDA Just Banned These Chemicals in Food. Are They the Tip of the Iceberg?
- New York State Department of Health. New York State Announces Progress to Address Contamination at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Site and in Village Water Supply.
- USA Today, Mary Esch. Factory village’s trail of cancer leads to tap water probe.
- Colorado Springs Business Journal, John Hazlehurst. Study: Local water contaminated.
- The Intercept, Sharon Lerner. Poisoning the Well: Toxic Firefighting Foam Has Contaminated U.S. Drinking Water.
- AL.com, Dennis Pillion. Tennessee Riverkeeper to sue 3M, Decatur over chemicals found in river.
- The Intercept, Sharon Lerner. The Teflon Toxin (series).
- Environmental Health News, Brian Bienkowski. Breastfeeding exposes babies to water- and stain-proofing chemicals.
- Vice News, Matt Smith. The chemical long used in non-stick pans might be unsafe at any level.
- Environmental Health News, Bill Walker. Commentary: Despite industry spin, bad news keeps sticking to Teflon chemical.
- CHEMTrust, Gwen Buck. PFCs: In our blood, in polar bears – and in packets of microwave popcorn!
- New Solutions, Philippe Grandjean and Richard Clapp. Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances: Emerging insights into health risks.
- International New York Times, Nicholas Kristof. Chemicals in Your Popcorn?
- International New York Times, Eric Lipton and Rachel Abrams. Commonly Used Chemicals Come Under New Scrutiny.
- Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Paul Webster. Fluorinated chemicals need stricter control.
- Huffington Post, Lynne Peeples. Scientists issue warning over chemicals common in carpets, coats, cookware.
- Civil Eats, Elizabeth Grossman. Scientists say avoid nonstick, greaseproof, or waterproof kitchen products.
- Science Insider, Liza Gross. Scientists call for limits on emerging class of common, long-lived chemicals.
- National Geographic, Lindsey Konkel. These chemicals in pizza boxes and carpeting last forever.
- Environmental Health News, Brian Bienkowski. Scientists call for limits on stain- and water-proofing chemicals.
- Time, Sarah Begley. These 9 common products may contain a potentially dangerous chemical.
- USA Today, John Johnson. Scientists warn of chemicals in pizza boxes, carpet care.
- NBC Today, Joan Raymond. Scientists worry about chemicals in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags.
- Yahoo! Health, Amy Capetta. Chemicals in cell phones, pizza boxes, backpacks said to be health threat.
- Cosmopolitan, Elizabeth Narins. Is your pizza box hurting you?
- Medical Daily, Stephanie Castillo. 200 scientists warn against chemicals commonly used to produce electronics, pizza boxes.
- Modern Farmer, Dan Nosowitz. Massive Group of Scientists Thinks You Shouldn’t Use Non-Stick.
- RT, Eric Gaillard. Científicos: Las cajas de pizza contienen químicos que pueden causar cancer.
- Apparel Magazine. Scientists speak out against toxic chemicals in clothing.
- Michigan Radio. Am I at risk? How do you clean it up? A PFAS expert answers basic questions.
- Truthout, Dan Ross. Millions of Americans are Ingesting a Chemicals Some Experts Believe Has No Safe Exposure Level.
- Michigan Radio, Bryce Huffman. Residents in Oscoda wonder why state didn’t act on PFAS issues sooner.
- The Hill, Arlene Blum & Tom Bruton. 6 million Americans are drinking contaminated water linked to cancer.
- The Spokesman-Review, Chad Sokol. Scientists say concerted effort needed to study types of chemicals leaked into Fairchild water.
- KPCC, Libby Denkmann. Defense bill could lead to more regulation of chemicals in some SoCal drinking water.
- Michigan Radio, Rebecca Williams. Study: some highly fluorinated chemicals are harder to filter from water.
- In These Times, Tracy Frisch. An Industrial Chemical Poisoned Their Water, Now Upstate New Yorkers Want to Know What Replaced It.
- Salon, Paul Feldman. Ketchup or PFAS with those fries? Researchers raise concerns about chemicals in fast food packaging.
- Democracy Now. DuPont vs. the World: Chemical Giant Covered Up Health Risks of Teflon Contamination Across Globe
- Circle of Blue. Brett Walton. Perfluorinated Chemicals Health Study Included in Congress Budget Deal.
- Ensia. Liza Gross. In Search of Safe Replacements for Harmful Chemicals Used in Cookware, Carpets, Clothing, Cosmetics, and More