"Health Threatening Forever Chemicals" In: Your Food, Clothes, Home Goods, and Body
New research released on May 31, 2023, in the Annals of Global Health explores industrial strategies used to suppress knowledge of PFAS toxicity and, by extension, to postpone laws on its usage.
A comprehensive analysis was conducted on documents obtained from leading PFAS manufacturers DuPont and 3M, as reported in a recent publication dated May 31, 2023, in the esteemed Annals of Global Health. The study examines the complex tactics utilized by the industry to hinder the spread of knowledge concerning the harmful properties of PFAS, consequently delaying the enforcement of regulations pertaining to their utilization.
Within the paper, it is asserted that DuPont possessed knowledge of the harmful effects of PFAS, as evidenced by their internal animal and occupational studies. However, this information was not made public through the scientific literature, and DuPont neglected to disclose its findings to the Environmental Protection Agency by the Toxic Substances Control Act. The documents mentioned above were all classified as 'confidential,' and in certain instances, corporate leaders made it abundantly clear that they 'desired the results of this memorandum to be destroyed.
The modern world has “blessed us” with an array of products that have made our daily routines significantly less chaotic. From nonstick cookware to grease-resistant food packaging and waterproof clothing, these inventions have undoubtedly made our lives more convenient. However, it is important to note that such convenience comes at a price.
The world of consumer goods owes its water-, stain-, and grease-resistant properties to a group of synthetic compounds referred to as PFAS, an acronym that denotes per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The perilous nature of PFAS is not to be underestimated, as even minuscule quantities of this substance - measured in parts per quadrillion - can inflict considerable harm upon our well-being.
"Forever chemicals,": these chemical molecules are so astonishingly resiliant that they are nearly immune to any decline or deterioration.
Regrettably, it is exceedingly challenging to evade exposure to PFAS. They can be commonly found in various settings, such as residential, commercial, and retail environments.
- PFAS possess a structural composition that renders them resistant to degradation both in the environment and within the human body.
- Moreover, their rapid mobility within the environment poses a significant challenge to their containment.
- Lastly, certain PFAS exhibit deleterious effects on human health even at exceedingly low levels of exposure.
It is important to note, that manufacturers are not mandated by law or any moral judgement to disclose to consumers their use of PFAS chemicals and that the majority of these chemicals are not regulated or tested for by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The following information and recommendations are provided to assist you in safeguarding yourself.
Studies have established a correlation between PFAS and various health hazards in both human and animal subjects. These include but are not limited to cancer (kidney and testicular), hormone disruption, liver and thyroid dysfunction, interference with vaccine efficacy, reproductive impairment, and anomalous fetal growth.
Several health issues, such as kidney cancer and thyroid disease, were identified in the C8 studies. These studies were conducted to monitor the health of approximately 69,000 West Virginia individuals exposed to specific PFAS through their drinking water. Chemical industry scientists were aware of the significant adverse effects of certain PFAS compounds many years ago. However, this information was not disclosed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the general public.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposed a significant monetary penalty on DuPont, a manufacturer, due to its repeated failure to report crucial information to the EPA regarding the considerable risk of harm to human health or the environment from PFAS perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8).
Numerous independent studies indicate that PFAS can have toxic effects on adults, particularly on children, whose developing bodies are more susceptible. Certain PFAS have been observed to accumulate in a developing fetus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that PFAS were present in the breast milk, umbilical cord blood, or bloodstreams of 98 percent of participants, which is a concerning observation.
The veil of secrecy surrounding the production of "forever chemicals" has been lifted by a recent peer-reviewed study, which reveals that manufacturers were aware of the toxic nature of these substances long before public health officials. Based on confidential industry documents, the study exposes a disturbing pattern of concealment and underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and accountability in the chemical industry.
The Annals of Global Health study revealed a rather disconcerting fact. According to the study, the two largest manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), namely 3M and DuPont, have been actively concealing evidence of the hazardous nature of these chemicals since the 1960s. This revelation is particularly alarming as it suggests that these companies were aware of the potential dangers of PFAS long before the scientific community caught up.
In a bold statement, researchers have drawn a striking parallel between the chemical industry and the tobacco industry. According to their claims, the former has taken a page from the latter's handbook by concealing their knowledge of the health risks associated with PFAS exposure. This revelation is a sobering reminder of the lengths to which some industries will go to protect their interests, even at the expense of public health.
Tracey Woodruff, the paper's senior author, said in a statement, "These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS but failed to inform the public, regulators, and even their own employees of the risks."
PFAS are a group of chemicals that are recognized for the lubricating or slippery properties that they possess. According to the findings of the study, the brand names Teflon and ScotchGuard are the most well-recognized examples of this kind of chemical coating, despite the fact that there are over 12,000 distinct types of this molecule. Cookware, textiles, food packaging, and insulation were all major industries that made substantial use of PFAS, which was first manufactured commercially in the 1940s. Today, PFAS can be found almost everywhere, even in human bodies.
According to the study's findings, manufacturers of products containing PFAS have been aware for the last four decades that these chemicals may be harmful to both animals and humans. Still, they have concealed this information in breach of public health regulations. According to the story, all internal "documents were marked as 'confidential,' in some cases, industry executives were explicit that they 'wanted this memo destroyed."
According to a report by a Teflon company in 1961, exposure to low doses of the substance resulted in the enlargement of rats' livers. The report further recommended that the material should be handled with utmost care and that any contact with the skin should be avoided at all costs.
In 1970, a laboratory that received funding from DuPont made a significant discovery regarding C-8, which was the former name for certain chemicals. The researchers found that inhalation of this substance was highly toxic, while ingestion resulted in moderate toxicity. Furthermore, a report from 1979 revealed that dogs that were exposed to a single dose of PFOA, a type of C-8, passed away within two days.
In the year 1980, DuPont and 3M were made aware of a total of eight expectant women who were employed in the production of PFAS. Out of these, two women gave birth to infants who had congenital malformations. Both corporations concealed this information from their employees. Furthermore, DuPont circulated an internal memorandum the subsequent year, stating that there was no proof of C-8 causing birth defects within the company.
In a statement, DuPont said it could not comment on the findings because of a corporate reorganization.
DuPont de Nemours was established as a multi-industrial specialty products company in 2019. According to spokesperson Dan Turner, DuPont de Nemours has never produced PFOA or PFOS. DuPont de Nemours cannot provide any comments regarding the allegations mentioned in the UCSF paper that pertain to past E.I. du Pont de Nemours affairs.
According to 3M, the paper predominantly consists of previously published documents. This is supported by the references section of the paper, which contains citations dating back to 1962.
The company stated that it had previously addressed several misrepresentations of the documents in prior reports, although it did not elaborate on the specifics.
According to certain public health researchers, the findings presented in this paper indicate that manufacturers cannot be relied upon to self-regulate their compliance with public health regulations and safety protocols. As a result, these experts suggest that regulatory bodies must adopt a more stringent approach toward producers of products that may pose a risk to public health.
The major chemical manufacturers possess a financial stake in concealing scientific evidence regarding the detrimental effects of their products, much like the tobacco industry. This is done while simultaneously promoting the notion that their products are harmless to the general public. The United States' inability to transfer the responsibility of proof to the industry in regard to chemical policy implies that the pursuit of safeguarding public health may be reactive rather than proactive. This approach may result in a continuous effort to address known issues rather than preventing them from occurring in the first place.
A timeline of the deception has been constructed by researchers using a limited selection of company documents from DuPont and 3M, which date back to 1961 and extend up to 2006.
The documents above were initially acquired by attorney Robert Bilott, who effectively litigated DuPont for PFAS contamination during the early 2000s.
In a more recent development, the producers of a 2018 investigative documentary on DuPont, titled The Devil We Know, have generously donated these items to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
The present paper chronicles a timeline that contrasts the knowledge of the industry with that of the general public. Additionally, it scrutinizes the tactics employed by the chemical industry to either conceal information or safeguard their deleterious products. Some examples that can be cited are:
- Instances of organs that have increased in size. According to a company report dating back to 1961, the Chief of Toxicology at Teflon discovered that Teflon materials could potentially enlarge the liver of rats at low doses. As a result, cautionary measures were recommended, including handling the chemicals with extreme care and strictly avoiding skin contact.
- Deaths of animals following ingestion. As per an internal memo from 1970, the Haskell Laboratory, which DuPont funded, discovered that C8, one of the many PFAS, exhibited high toxicity when inhaled and moderate toxicity when ingested. According to a private report for DuPont in 1979, Haskell labs discovered that dogs exposed to a single dose of PFOA perished within two days of ingestion.
- The occurrence of congenital abnormalities in the offspring of employees. In 1980, DuPont and 3M were informed that two out of eight pregnant employees involved in manufacturing C8 had given birth to offspring with congenital anomalies. The discovery was not made public by the company, nor was it communicated to the employees. In the subsequent year, an internal memorandum was circulated, which stated that there was no evidence to suggest that C-8 at DuPont caused any birth defects.
In 1980, DuPont reassured its employees that C8 had a lower toxicity level, comparable to that of table salt, despite several examples suggesting otherwise. With regards to the reports of PFAS groundwater contamination in the vicinity of a DuPont manufacturing facility, a press release from 1991 asserted that "C-8" did not possess any discernible toxic or adverse health effects in humans at the concentration levels that were detected.
With the rise in media coverage of PFAS contamination due to legal actions in 1998 and 2002, DuPont corresponded with the EPA via email, requesting an expeditious response to their query: "We require the EPA to promptly (preferably by tomorrow) affirm the safety of consumer goods marketed under the Teflon label, and confirm that no adverse human health effects have been attributed to PFOA thus far."
DuPont was fined by the EPA in 2004 for failing to disclose their PFOA findings. The $16.45 million settlement at the time represented the most substantial civil penalty acquired under U.S. environmental statutes. However, it constituted merely a minor portion of DuPont's yearly earnings of $1 billion from PFOA and C8 in 2005.
Currently, chemical regulations in the United States are predominantly formulated retrospectively, thereby jeopardizing the well-being of the general population. Frequently, newly developed materials are produced and subsequently evaluated for toxicity solely after their introduction into the market.
The deleterious effects of this methodology are abundantly clear when examining the chronicles of 'perpetual chemicals.'
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have earned the moniker of 'forever chemicals' due to their persistent nature in the environment, taking a significant amount of time to degrade. This category of chemicals has been utilized in various applications such as nonstick cookware, fabric treatment, cosmetics, and food packaging since the 1940s.
Out of the plethora of PFAS variants currently known to us, a distinct pair has been identified to exhibit unfavorable health consequences, such as heightened susceptibility to cancer and birth abnormalities.
During the early 2000s, the production of PFOA and PFOS was ultimately discontinued in the United States. However, their widespread distribution had already occurred prior to this cessation.
Initially, DuPont and 3M asserted that these chemicals exhibited biological inertness. However, based on investigative reporting and legal disclosures, it has been revealed that the industry leaders were aware that this claim was false for a significant time.
During the 1970s, DuPont's internal records indicated they knew that PFOA was highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested.
Historical records dating back to 1961 indicate that the Chief of Toxicology at Teflon was cognizant of PFOA's capacity to induce liver enlargement in rats at low doses. Consequently, he recommended that the substance be handled cautiously and that skin contact be strictly prohibited.
Subsequently, during the early 1980s, DuPont and 3M became aware of instances where expectant employees who had been exposed to PFAS experienced miscarriages or gave birth to offspring with congenital anomalies.
In 1991, Dupont refuted any potential negative health impacts.
It was not until three decades following the emergence of industry knowledge that the initial peer-reviewed papers established a correlation between per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and birth defects in the scientific literature.
As of present, more than 90 percent of expectant individuals in the United States remain subject to exposure to these chemicals that may pose a risk to their health.
Even in small amounts, there is a possibility that they may result in negative health consequences.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently revised the safety guidelines for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The new guidelines have lowered the acceptable limit from 70 parts per trillion to below 0.02 parts per trillion. This adjustment could expose more than half of the US population to harmful chemicals when tap water is consumed.
Currently, experts at UCSF have highlighted that the United States lacks any federally mandated restrictions on PFAS chemicals.
Although not all PFAS chemicals are necessarily as hazardous as PFOA or PFOS, it is reasonable for the public to express apprehension regarding the plausible health consequences.
According to researchers, the tactics utilized by DuPont and 3M to stifle research and sway government regulations bear a resemblance to those employed by tobacco companies.
If alterations are not made, history may continue to repeat itself.
The absence of transparency in industry-sponsored studies on industrial chemicals carries substantial legal, political, and public health implications. An analysis of industry strategies aimed at suppressing scientific research findings or early warnings regarding the hazards of industrial chemicals can be conducted and disclosed. This can serve as a guide for prevention efforts.
This week, a federal judge granted 3M (NYSE: MMM) and a city in Florida an extension to negotiate a global settlement in a significant trial that will determine the financial responsibility of manufacturers of "forever chemicals" in filtering them from drinking water across the country.
The possibility of avoiding a trial is encouraging but still leaves 3M (MMM) as a target for other litigation, analysts at investment bank Morgan Stanley said Wednesday.
According to a report by Joshua C. Pokrzywinski, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, the risk/reward ratio for better comprehension of the magnitude of liability appears to be more balanced presently, as the implied total seems more feasible. This statement was made on June 7.
The bank is maintaining its Underweight rating of 3M (MMM) because the company is more affected by economic cycles than peers in the industrial sector.
3M (MMM), the maker of Scotch tape and Post-It Notes, is defending itself against claims that the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, it made for decades contaminated drinking water and soil.
The stock of 3M (MMM) experienced an increase last week following a news report that stated the company had reached a tentative settlement of no less than $10 billion with several cities and towns in the United States. The settlement aims to address water pollution claims that are linked to the presence of forever chemicals. The estimated cost of the settlement was lower than the projections made by certain investors.
The report came days before the trial brought by the city of Stuart, Florida, was set to begin in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina.
The case may help to set a precedent for whether 3M (MMM) and other companies that made PFAS or used the chemicals to make aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for firefighting should pay to remove them from drinking water in thousands of U.S. cities.
“Clarity should be a net positive given the substantial derating over the past year, but AFFF is only one aspect of PFAS including personal injury, property damage, medical monitoring, and other PFAS remediation outside of AFFF,” according to Morgan Stanley. “The rumored at least $10 billion settlement cited by Bloomberg may provide an order of magnitude context, but 3M (MMM) has not confirmed any figure, and mediation is private.”
Any change in 3M's (MMM) dividend policy would be negative for its stock because the company has a higher-than-average percentage of ownership by retail investors at about 40%, according to Morgan Stanley.
3M’s (MMM) potential legal liabilities may prevent the company from acquiring businesses whose growth is tied to the digitization of the industrial sector, according to Morgan Stanley. Also, 3M (MMM) may not benefit from the growth in computing power needed for artificial intelligence as it stops making PFAS used in chemicals to prevent processors from overheating.
“Electronics and thermal management remain important throughout the 3M (MMM) portfolio, and we continue to expect content growth in areas like automotive (both electric vehicle and internal combustion engine) based on higher electronics content, but the specifics of AI computing look less positive than they might have in the past,” according to Morgan Stanley.