China Dialogue: PFOS: The hidden danger in our homes


In Shanghai, a study of 110 mothers found that their breastmilk was contaminated with alarming levels of two highly fluorinated chemicals. If these levels were found in drinking water, it would be classified as unsafe under current United States health advisory limits. Nevertheless, experts recommend breastfeeding because the benefits outweigh the risks.

For more than 50 years, the West produced the two chemicals for domestic and global use. After learning of their toxicities, they were phased out of consumer goods through voluntary company action.

But Western production has been replaced by manufacturing in countries with few environmental safeguards – fluorochemical factories continue to release the same two substances into rivers, fields, and oceans. Today, China produces both of these chemicals and is thought to be the world’s largest emitter of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and the only remaining producer of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, known as PFOS.

David Lunderberg

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