DuPont and 3M Hid Their Knowledge About the Health Threat of Forever Chemicals
In a move that is likely to shock practically no one, it appears chemical giants DuPont and 3M took a page from Phillip Morris and Exxon’s playbook to actively suppress and downplay their knowledge of the adverse health effects from exposure to the PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) they’ve manufactured and sold in ways that have essentially now poisoned the entire earth.
A new paper published in Annals of Global Health documents UC San Francisco (UCSF) researchers’ analysis of industry documents from DuPont and 3M that they previously kept secret. These documents shed much light on industry tactics designed to delay public awareness of PFAS toxicity and regulations that would govern and likely substantially reduce their use. PFAS are ubiquitous and found in everything from food products to clothing and everyday household goods. Called forever chemicals because they are highly resistant to being broken down, these chemicals are now found in virtually every corner of the globe and in every human body.
Senior paper author Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, a professor and director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and a former senior scientist and policy advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency, commented that the documents her team analyzed “reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks.” The documents span 45 years, from 1961 to 2006, and indicate decades of industry knowledge and suppression. These documents were discovered in a lawsuit filed by attorney Robert Bilott, who was the first to successfully sue DuPont for PFAS contamination in Parkersburg and whose story was featured in the film, “Dark Waters.”
These records document, for instance, DuPont’s knowledge of enlarged livers from Teflon, animals dead within days of ingesting C-8, factory workers bearing children with birth defects, and plenty more. DuPont, of course, reported none of these results to EPA as required under law. Instead, industry executives were giving instructions to destroy documentation of these results, and the company was publicly reporting no known toxic or ill health effects in humans. In 1998 and 2002, as attention over forever chemicals was growing, DuPont emailed the EPA asking it “to quickly (like first thing tomorrow) say the following: That consumer products sold under the Teflon brand are safe and to date, there are no human health effects known to be caused by PFOA.”
“Having access to these documents allows us to see what the manufacturers knew and when, but also how polluting industries keep critical public health information private,” said first author Nadia Gaber, MD, PhD, who led the research as a PRHE fellow and is now an emergency medicine resident. “This research is important to inform policy and move us towards a precautionary rather than reactionary principle of chemical regulation.”
If you are concerned about exposure to forever chemicals, contact your state and federal representatives and let them know you expect them to continue the fight to sensibly regulate these forever chemicals and hold those who would knowingly and consciously poison their fellow humans in the name of profit completely responsible.