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Scientists Question Safety of Commonly Used Household Chemicals

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Scientists call on international community to limit the production and use of commonly used chemicals, PFASs.

A new public campaigned launched earlier today warning people about health concerns relating to a common class of chemicals and urging consumers to avoid PFAS containing products. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, also referred to as PFASs, are found in everyday household items from carpet cleaners to pizza boxes. These substances remain in people’s bodies for years, and appear to increase the risk of cancer and other health problems. The Madrid Statement documents the scientific consensus regarding the persistence and potential for harm of PFASs, and lays out a roadmap to gather needed information and prevent further harm. [i]

A top federal official and hundreds of environmental scientists support this campaign which renews years-old debates about PFASs and their safety.  Chemical manufacturers, like DuPont, previously banned the use of one type of PFASs, C8, in its popular Teflon products due to adverse health effects. Now, new replacement PFASs are being labeled as “safe alternatives” by the same companies that labeled the banned PFASs, such as C8, as safe.  Scientists are skeptical and question whether enough research has been done to justify the chemical industry’s confidence in the safety of this new batch of PFASs.[ii]

Linda S. Birnbaum, the head of the national toxicology program for the Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized the need to find to find safe alternatives for current uses of PFASs. In an editorial published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Birnbaum explains that recent publications express concerns that these replacements are too similar in chemical structure and environmental persistence to their predecessor PFASs. These similarities could result in hazardous potential to both the environment and humans as did the PFASs they replaced. [iii]

Birnbaum and her colleagues reiterate the need for more research and an understanding of the potential for adverse health effects from exposure. The current question is should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products?[iv]

PFASs are known for their durability and water-resistant properties, but these same features also worry environmental health scientists because these chemicals remain in the bloodstream longer. To support this, researchers cite to the lingering concerns and continued health monitoring of residents living in Ohio and West Virginia along the Ohio River which was contaminated with C8, an older form of PFASs, from a nearby plant owned by DuPont. A multi-year study conducted on these residents found probable links between exposure to PFASs and health issues like thyroid disease, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer.[v]

Thomas H. Samples, DuPont’s head of risk management for the division that manufactures these chemicals, rejected the scientists’ concerns, as did the American Chemistry Council, the industry trade association.  The fluoro-technology industry is considerable and reached $19.7 billion in sales in 2013, according to the most recent estimate from the FluoroCouncil, a division of the American Chemistry Council. The PFASs chemicals also represent an important part of DuPont’s $34.7 billion in sales last year.[vi]

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