Teflon contains a toxic chemical called C8 or PFOA which has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals. Its effects have never been formally tested on humans.
The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, is a soaplike material. It is used to make many widely used products, such as non-stick cookware, fast food containers, clothing, Gortex outdoor gear, furniture, carpet treatments such as Stainmaster, cleaning products and even cosmetics.
It is part of a family of perfluorated chemicals, or PFCs, that have been detected in the blood of more than 90 percent of Americans and in Arctic Circle polar bears. Recently PFCs were detected in the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for 33 million Americans and Canadians.
PFOA does not occur naturally, so researchers suspect that it is being spread either in the manufacturing process or in the gradual release of the chemical from products as they age and wear out.
Officials from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have expressed mounting concern over PFOA because it has been found to contaminate human blood pervasively and does not appear to break down in the environment. In 2000, the EPA forced a chemical cousin of PFOA off the market. Known as PFOS, it was the original chemical ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard products. PFOS has also been found almost universally in human blood, does not decay in the environment and is considered toxic.
The EPA has charged DuPont with illegally suppressing Teflon birth defect and water pollution studies for 22 years. Du Pont allegedly knew that the tap water at a community near a Teflon manufacturing site in West Virginia was contaminated, and that a woman working at the plant who was exposed to Teflon gave birth to a child with a facial defect.
Fluoropolymers, the class of plastics to which Teflon belongs, accounted for nearly $800 million of the company’s $24.1 billion in 2002 sales. Teflon, DuPont’s best-known brand, is worth considerably more through licensing to products that don’t necessarily contain the material but pay to use the name. DuPont doesn’t say how much money it gets from licensing the brand.