Making Sense of the Story Behind Toxic Teflon

I don’t usually have the patience to read through long news articles. But one report recently drew me in and it’s worth the read.

The story takes place in Parkersburg, WV, a small community where DuPont had one of its chemical plants. People worked, lived and played near this facility and they produced a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8). Most people know of it as Teflon, commonly used in non-stick cookware, cosmetics and stain proof clothing. It’s a damning article to say the least. The thing that makes this article so relevant – for everyone – is that the Teflon chemical, is in nearly every single American.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said,

CDC scientists found PFOA in the serum of nearly all the people tested, indicating that PFOA exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”


DuPont got into the business of making chemicals for everyday household goods because they used to manufacture weapons and had a bit of a public relations problem. They came under close scrutiny for over charging the federal government too much money for weapons, and so a PR man advised DuPont executives to get into the business of making chemicals for the era of “peacetime.” They transitioned away from weapons and into making products for homes across the country.

Making sense of it all:

It’s hard to understand why a company would do this to their workers, community and country. Having worked in this field for a while, here are some of my thoughts.

Why did DuPont bring C8 to market if their own scientists warned them about major health and environmental threats?

According to the Huffington Post piece, DuPont’s scientists knew as early as 1954 that C8 was toxic to human health and the environment. During the roll out of the “Happy Pan” coated with Teflon, the company’s own toxicologist warned it needed to be used with care.

Greed is the most simple answer, but I think a sense of competition is the primary reason. DuPont knew the chemical worked wonders to make food not stick to the pan; a competitor came out with a similar product and they felt the need to jump. Without any federal regulatory program to require safety testing of the chemical, DuPont could easily bring the chemical to market, and in the homes of American families.

The same broken system exists today, which is why chemicals like C8 are widely used in the marketplace.

The chemical industry trade association unleashed two lobby blitzes to stop regulation of harmful chemicals.
They are now in the middle of their third.

This was the hardest part for me to read. Coming off the tails of a five year campaign to help reform our broken laws on toxic chemicals, my heart sank when I read about how the chemical industry trade association launched two successful and lobbying campaigns to stop reform of our toxic chemical laws. Reading that felt like deja vu. They are now in the final stages of their third lobbying blitz, and they have significantly weakened the reform proposals in D.C.

According to the Huffington Post,

When Congress passed a food-additives bill in 1958, chemicals already in use were presumed to be safe and grandfathered in.

And goes on to say,

By the early 1970s, Congress was once again debating how to regulate the chemicals that now formed the fabric of American domestic life. Both houses drafted legislation that would empower the Environmental Protection Agency to study the health and environmental effects of chemicals and regulate their use. But the industry unleashed another lobbying blitz. Under the final version of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, existing chemicals were again grandfathered in.

The problem is the chemical industry has NO credibility with the public, but Members of Congress still listen to them. WHY?

Will Congress let the chemical industry get away with this, again?

It’s too soon to say, but not if we act. Over the last six years efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act have been full on. The 450 public health, environmental, consumer protection organizations and businesses that make up the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign have been unified in their support for passing laws to protect the public and environment from harmful chemicals. The ACC has been pushing their agenda to keep the industry as de-regulated as possible. And now it’s up to Congress, the U.S. Senate in particular, to fix the bill and pass a stronger TSCA reform off the Senate floor.

A weak version passed the House of Representatives this spring, and the Senate is poised to take up an even weaker version. There is hope however, there is a possibility that Congress can take the best elements from each bill and fix some of the remaining issues to have a true compromise bill for the President to sign.

To join this movement and tell Congress you want strong laws on toxic chemicals: TAKE ACTION HERE!

What about “chemical cousins” like C6 – which are still on the market?

Meaningful reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act would remove harmful cousin chemicals from the market as well. This is part of the reason we need a strong regulatory system in place to make sure companies don’t continue to make similar chemicals with similar health impacts.

What safer products can I use in the meantime?
  1. Avoid non-stick pans, opt for cast iron or stainless steel. For a deeper dive on safer non-stick pans, scroll down to the “Safe Non-Stick Pans” section.
  2. Avoid stain resistant clothing, carpet and furniture treatments.
  3. Choose safer beauty products.

It’s easy to feel hopeless, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in my days of working on this issue, it’s that when the public raises a ruckus, elected leaders HAVE to respond.


Never miss a post and join my mailing list.

Photo credits: Flickr CC (Classic Film)

Related posts

Stop Obsessing Over Which Climate Goals are Real vs. Greenwashing, It's a Distraction

I’m here to make the case for ambitious climate goals, the kind that are taking some heat in…
Read more

EPA Sets Limits on PFAS "Forever Chemicals" in Drinking Water, So What Are They?

“Forever chemicals” are making headlines: they are the star villain in Hollywood films…
Read more
Popular PostsScience

The Double Edged Sword of Educating People About Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products

I posted a reel on Instagram that showed just a few examples of products I saw at the store made…
Read more

Sign up for Weekly Digest, tailored for you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *