Teflon is a DuPont brand name and registered trademark for a non-stick, stain-resistant material used in cooking, apparel, automotive, household, personal care, and industrial applications. Teflon is not a chemical.
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) is a synthetic (man-made) chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. PFOA is also known as "C8." Companies use PFOA to make substances called fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers impart special properties including fire resistance and oil, stain, grease, and water repellency.
Consumer products made with fluoropolymers include non-stick cookware (such as Teflon-coated cookware), and breathable, all-weather clothing. However, these products are not PFOA. PFOA is simply used in the process of making fluoropolymers.
The Safety of PFOA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been investigating possible risks associated with PFOA exposure since the late 1990's. The EPA investigation was prompted by the fact that PFOA is very persistent in the environment and was being found at very low levels in both the environment and the blood of the general population.
PFOA is very persistent in the environment, because it does not decompose when it reacts with water (hydrolysis) or light (photolysis), and does not biodegrade under environmental conditions.
Studies indicated that PFOA can cause developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals. PFOA also appears to remain in the human body for a long time.
While the EPA has noted that PFOA exposure is potentially nationwide, the EPA does not yet have a full understanding of how exposure occurs in the general population. Since the sources of PFOA in the environment and the pathways through which people are exposed remain unclear, the EPA has not recommended any steps for protecting oneself from PFOA exposure.
Given these scientific uncertainties, the EPA has not yet made a determination as to whether PFOA poses an unreasonable risk to the public. At the present time, the EPA does not believe that there is any reason for consumers to stop using consumer or industrial related products that contain PFOA.
While some believe that PFOA should be categorized as a "likely" carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) for humans, the EPA has only described PFOA as "suggestive...of carcinogenicity, but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential."
Settlement of PFOA Case between EPA and DuPont
In December 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $10.25 million to settle violations of federal law alleged by the EPA. DuPont will also pay $6.25 million for Supplemental Environmental Projects, which will examine the potential sources of PFOA in the environment, determine potential routes of human exposure, and protect and enhance public health and the environment.
One year before the settlement agreement, the EPA alleged that DuPont violated the Toxic Substances Control Act by failing to report information about the substantial risk of PFOA.
The violations alleged by the EPA appear to be primarily concerned with the potential occupational and industrial hazards related to PFOA exposure. The EPA is also investigating PFOA releases by industrial plants into the surrounding environment, including into local drinking water.
The recent settlement between DuPont and the EPA does not concern ordinary consumer use of Teflon-coated cookware or other Teflon-based products.
Questioned Safety of Teflon
Recently, the safety of Teflon coated cookware has been called into question. A class-action lawsuit brought against DuPont alleges that PFOA is released when Teflon-coated cookware is heated above certain very high temperatures. The complaint is centered on DuPont's failure to warn consumers about the dangers of PFOA exposure. DuPont maintains that Teflon does not contain PFOA and that Teflon-coated cookware is safe when used properly. This is neither a personal injury case, nor have any injuries due to PFOA exposure been reported thus far.
The only health effect reported by DuPont is a condition called "polymer fume fever." When Teflon-coated cookware is heated to abnormally high temperatures (e.g. above 500º F or 260º C), it can emit fumes, which may cause temporary flu-like symptoms. Symptoms occur 4 to 8 hours after exposure and disappear after 48 hours with no necessary treatment.
Lawsuits Over PFOA Exposure
In June 2006, residents of Parkersburg, West Virginia, filed a class action lawsuit against DuPont alleging that its Washington Works plant has contaminated their water supply with PFOA. The plaintiffs allege that PFOA releases during Teflon manufacturing have made class members ill and have caused property damage.
In March 2005, a class-action lawsuit was filed against DuPont by residents near its Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The plaintiffs alleged that their drinking water contained traces of PFOA. DuPont reached a $107.6 million settlement in order to avoid lengthy and costly litigation.
Teflon and PFOA Exposure - Getting Legal Help
If you or a loved one have experienced any dangerous symptoms or unusual medical conditions that might be related to Teflon or PFOA exposure, you should first seek immediate medical attention. In the event that you have used products containing Teflon, or if you are concerned that you and your family have been exposed to PFOA in the environment, you may wish to meet with an experienced attorney to discuss your options and to protect your right to a legal remedy for any injuries caused by Teflon or PFOA exposure. To find an experienced attorney, use the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page, or click here.