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Tiny concentrations of Teflon harmful to public health, study says

Teflon_Pan_022_RZEven small doses of the Teflon chemical PFOA in drinking water pose a more serious threat to public health than previously thought, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group.

The report, “Teflon Chemical Harmful at Smallest Doses,says that federal guidance on safe levels for PFOA is hundreds, even thousands of times too weak. 

In June, two environmental health scientists published a review of PFOA research that found that levels in many water systems are “at least two orders of magnitude” higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advises is safe.

PFOA has heavily contaminated the drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley of West Virginia and Ohio, near a plant where DuPont made and used the now-phased out chemical. Nationally, PFOA has been detected in 94 public water systems in 27 states, serving more than 6.5 million Americans.

While the two environmental health scientists said .001 parts per billion is an “approximate” safe level for PFOA, the EWG calculations based on their data yielded a level of just .0003 ppb – lower than the EPA advisory level by a factor of more than 1,300. One ppb is less than a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water is .4 parts per billion.

“The new science indicates that all the PFOA standards are more than 1,000 times too weak to fully protect public health,” said Bill Walker, an editor at the EWG and co-author of the report. “Even the lowest level detected in nationwide water sampling is about five times higher than what the research says would be dangerous.”

“People should be protected against water contaminated with PFOA – especially children and women who plan to get pregnant,” said co-author David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at the EWG.

Exposure to PFCs such as PFOA has been associated with cancer, high cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, obesity, and low birth weight, Andrews said.

Through Teflon’s use in hundreds of household products – carpets, clothing, food wrappers, and many more – PFOA and closely related chemicals have spread throughout the world and contaminate the blood of nearly all Americans.

In May, EWG released a report, “Poisoned Legacy,” to call attention to DuPont’s long history of covering up evidence of PFOA’s health hazards, including cancer and birth defects, Andrews said. 

Ten years ago, EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million for contaminating the drinking water of residents in Ohio and West Virginia with toxic PFOA. 

Lawsuits are being filed to ensure that these citizens get clean water and are compensated when they suffer from cancer and other diseases, Andrews said. The first of about 3,500 personal injury claims is scheduled to come to trial Sept. 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

The EWG offers an interactive map that shows nationwide detections of PFOA, PFOS, and four other PFCs.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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