What is Teflon?
Teflon is the trade name of a man-made chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. It belongs to the class of plastics known as fluoropolymers and is extremely slick and slippery, has a high melting point and is nearly indestructible. PTFE’s ideal properties have ensured its inclusion in thousands of different consumer and industrial products.
PTFE was invented by a DuPont scientist experimenting with refrigerants in a New Jersey laboratory in 1938. In 1945, PTFE was trademarked under the name Teflon and proved useful in the US military’s WWII efforts. The newly invented substance was added to nose cones on artillery shell proximity fuses (the fuse that detonates an explosive automatically when it reaches a certain distance) and even played a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project – the government R&D project that led to the development of the first nuclear weapons.
After the war, Teflon made its way into the American home with the introduction of the first non-stick pots and pans in 1961. Marketed as “a housewife’s best friend,” Teflon made cleanup a breeze because virtually no food could stick to its ultra-slick surface.
Teflon is now included in thousands of different products, both consumer and industrial.
What is PFOA?
PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid. It is a type of perfluorinated compound, or PFC, once used to manufacture Teflon. PFOA is a surfactant, like soap, which made it useful in products designed to resist or fight grease, such as fast food packaging and shampoo.
PFOA was manufactured by 3M Company until 2000 and was used in thousands of different products. After 2000, 3M announced it would stop making the substance after a high-profile lawsuit linked it to the contamination of the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. PFOA has been found in nearly all blood samples taken from around the world, as well as in food, air and water in communities worldwide. It has even been found in the blood of polar bears living in the remote Arctic.
DuPont took up the manufacture of PFOA after 3M got out, but in 2006, DuPont joined six other chemical companies, including 3M, in a global Stewardship Program led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to voluntarily phase out use and production of PFOA by 2015.
Today, PFOA is no longer used or manufactured in the US, but the agreement is not legally binding. The EPA issued health advisories in 2009 and 2015 regarding the safe limit of PFOA in drinking water but these too are non-enforceable.
Who makes Teflon?
Teflon was produced by E. I. du Pont Nemours and Company, or simply DuPont, from the product’s invention in 1938 until June 30, 2015 when DuPont parted ways with its chemicals division and spun off a new, independent company called Chemours Company. Chemours now owns the Teflon trademark and manufactures it in its newly acquired DuPont factories.
What is Teflon used for?
Teflon is used in thousands of consumer and industrial products to make them water-resistant, stain-resistant or non-stick. Examples of consumer products made with Teflon include non-stick frying pans, stain-resistant carpets and water-resistant rain coats.
Teflon is also used in the industrial sector to provide heat resistance and cut down on friction. Examples of industrial products using Teflon include hoses, gears and other machine parts that come in contact with corrosive substances or are exposed to extremely high temperatures.
Other products that use Teflon include:
- Clothing and apparel, including rain coats and school uniforms
- Cookware and utensils, including non-stick pans and spatulas
- Fast food and take-out containers, including pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags
- Personal care products, including shampoo and dental floss
- Cosmetics, including foundation, powdered makeup and nail polish
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning products, like floor cleaner and floor wax
- Stain-resistant carpets and furniture
- Electronics, including data communication wires
- Automotives, including windshield wiper blades
- Machine and electrical parts
This is not an exhaustive list as literally thousands of products in several industries use Teflon to enhance their stain-resistant, non-stick, water-resistant or heat-resistant qualities.
For products that list ingredients on the label, look for words like PTFE, polyfluor- or perfluor-. This can indicate that Teflon or a similar chemical was used in its production. Phrases like stain-resistant or water-resistant are also good indicators that the product may contain Teflon or a similar compound.
How does Teflon work?
Teflon’s main ingredient polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a slippery substance inert to virtually all chemicals. PTFE is a fluorocarbon solid, meaning it is comprised solely of the elements carbon and fluorine. It is hydrophobic so that neither water nor water-containing substances wet PTFE. It also has one of the lowest coefficients of friction of any solid, making it one of the slipperiest solids known to man. These properties make PTFE useful in many different applications. It was first used during WWII to make weapons, including the first nuclear weapons, and was introduced to consumers by way of non-stick cookware. PTFE was made useful in other consumer goods, including Stainmaster and Gore-Tex products.
Who invented PTFE?
PTFE was invented by Roy J. Plunkett, a scientist at DuPont’s Jackson Laboratory in New Jersey, in 1938. Plunkett, then only 27 years old, was experimenting with refrigerants when a sample froze overnight into a waxy solid. The new substance was extremely slippery and was not destroyed even when exposed to highly corrosive acids. DuPont trademarked PTFE under the name Teflon in 1945.
Is Teflon safe?
The ingredient once used in the production of Teflon, PFOA, has been linked to several health conditions, including cancer. Though Teflon is no longer produced using PFOA, it is made using similar chemicals which many scientists argue are equally as dangerous.
Despite its phase out in 2015, the substance PFOA is prolific in the environment. Traces of the toxic material can be found in the blood of nearly all people worldwide, in the soil, air and water of communities nationwide, and in the bodies of animals living as far away as the Arctic. PFOA never biodegrades, instead it accumulates over time in the environment and in the body.
Teflon manufacturer DuPont paid millions of dollars to settle legal accusations that PFOA was harming the environment, as well as causing health problems in thousands of people. Though DuPont maintained its innocence throughout these lawsuits, the company settled accusations that it poisoned at least 70,000 people living around its Washington Works plant in West Virginia with PFOA.
PFOA exposure was linked to kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy induced hypertension, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and high cholesterol by a science panel set up as part of the settlement deal made between DuPont and the 70,000 residents in 2004.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, said PFOA is “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, and some studies have linked the chemical to birth defects, liver, breast and pancreatic cancer in lab animals, as well as prostate, bladder and ovarian cancer in humans.
In 2005, the EPA asked seven of the world’s largest chemical companies, including DuPont and 3M, to phase out the use and manufacture of PFOA by 2015. The companies agreed and according to the federal agency, met the program’s goals on time.
Teflon is now produced without the use of the cancer-causing chemical PFOA. It is, however, manufactured using similar compounds which many scientists argue are just as detrimental as PFOA. In 2015, more than 200 scientists from around the world signed the Madrid Statement raising concerns about the use of perfluorinated substances, also called PFASs:
“PFASs are man-made and found everywhere. … PFASs are found in the indoor and outdoor environments, wildlife, and human tissue and bodily fluids all over the globe. They are emitted via industrial processes and military and firefighting operations, and they migrate out of consumer products into air, household dust, food, soil, ground and surface water, and make their way into drinking water. … It is essential to … reduce the use of PFASs in products and prevent their replacement with fluorinated alternatives in order to avoid long-term harm to human health and the environment.”
Many environmental groups, including non-profit watchdog Environmental Working Group, agree it is safer to avoid products made with Teflon or similar substances than not.
Teflon itself, when heated between 300°F and 450°F, gives off fumes that can cause polymer fume fever, or Teflon flu. Symptoms of polymer fume fever are flu-like chills, headaches and fevers with chest tightness and mild cough. These fumes kills certain birds, including parrots and other birds commonly kept as pets. It is unclear what the long-term effects of breathing in these fumes are in humans.
Who might be exposed to PFOA and where?
Virtually everyone is at risk of PFOA exposure and virtually everyone already has traces of PFOA in his or her blood. We are exposed to PFOA through food, water and air, however, the exposure is usually relatively low. The fact that PFOA never leaves the body but accumulates over time has raised concerns that even small amounts of exposure could be detrimental. PFOA exposure has been linked to certain cancers and other health conditions.
People living near the factories where PFOA was manufactured are at the greatest risk of adverse health effects due to exposure. Though PFOA is no longer produced in the US, compounds similar to the substance are still being produced in vast quantities and used in thousands of products every day. Factory workers, as well as their families and the communities living nearby, risk exposure through the air and water.
DuPont owned several factories that produced Teflon or other products using PFOA, including:
- Spruance Plant – Richmond, VA
- Redpath Lab – Parlin, NJ
- Chambers Works – Deepwatwer, NJ
- Washington Works – West Virginia
- Fayetteville Works – Fayetteville, NC
Is Teflon’s use regulated?
Teflon’s main ingredient PTFE is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency because it does not appear on the agency’s list of toxic substances. PTFE was considered safe when the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 was passed as the chemical was already in use. When the act was written, it allowed the 62,000 chemicals already on the market to be grandfathered in as safe for use.
PFOA was also unregulated when its potential toxicity was brought to light. Like PTFE, PFOA was already in use when the 1976 act was passed. PFOA, arguably, remains unregulated because the current restrictions on its use are not legally binding. The EPA has issued health advisories regarding PFOA, including a May 2016 guideline setting the safe level of PFOA in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. This advisory is also non-enforceable.
Are there lawsuits against the maker of Teflon?
Roughly 3,500 personal injury lawsuits were filed against DuPont after the science panel announced PFOA was linked to numerous health conditions, including cancer. The lawsuits have been grouped into a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, in Ohio federal court. Five cases were chosen to be tried first beginning in late 2015.
The first in this series ended in October 2015 with a $1.6 million award to a woman diagnosed with kidney cancer. The second ended in July 2016 with a $5.1 million award to a man diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two days after the jury handed down its verdict, it awarded the man another $500,000 in punitive damages.
The rest of the 3000-plus cases will continue at a 40-trial-per-year pace beginning in April 2017, unless DuPont agrees to settle before going to trial.
I was harmed after being exposed to Teflon or PFOA. Can I file a lawsuit?
If you or someone you love used a Teflon product and were injured as a result, you may be entitled to financial compensation.
Lawyers and attorneys across the country are currently investigating possible lawsuits against DuPont and potentially Chemours alleging the company knew or should have known its products could cause harm to the public and environment but failed to warn the proper agencies.
The legal team at National Injury Help is currently accepting calls from those injured as part of the investigative process into possible lawsuits. Call National Injury Help today at 1-800-214-1010 for a free case evaluation.