“Forever Chemicals” Makers Hid Dangers for Decades - The Lever

The manufacturers of “forever chemicals” used in products like nonstick pans and waterproof clothing knew about the dangers their materials posed more than 40 years before the general public, according to previously secret industry documents. By following the same playbook as Big Tobacco, including suppression of their own research, the companies successfully stymied regulation for decades while the cancer-causing chemicals became ubiquitous in the water, air, and soil.

Major manufacturers are already spending billions to settle lawsuits and millions fighting federal regulations, including landmark environmental rules proposed this spring. The revealing industry documents, analyzed in a new study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), could bolster efforts to hold the companies accountable for widespread contamination from chemicals that take hundreds of years to break down. The manufacturer 3M is reportedly preparing to pay $10 billion to settle claims that it polluted thousands of public water systems, but the cost of cleaning up the chemicals in drinking water nationwide will likely top $400 billion.

Introduced into a variety of consumer goods beginning in the 1950s, per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS, are linked to decreased fertility, developmental delays, and several types of cancer.

While the human health risks became widely known during the last decade, manufacturers have known since at least 1970 that the compounds were “highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested,” according to the industry documents obtained through litigation and reviewed by public health researchers at UCSF.

State officials and consumer groups are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize the first-ever enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water, after decades of deferring to industry groups. Two major manufacturers, 3M and DuPont, reported spending a combined total of more than $3.8 million lobbying on chemical issues including PFAS regulation last year.

Meanwhile, dozens of states are currently considering legislation banning their use in everyday products. Exposure to PFAS is so widespread that the CDC estimates the chemicals are present in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.

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The Lever

Organizations: 3M DuPont University of California San Francisco Environmental Protection Agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

Tags: PFAS Environmentalism Public Health Lobbying Corruption 

Type: Headlines