Studies have revealed that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), formerly used in teflon, is hazardous to health. In response, DuPont developed a replacement chemical dubbed GenX to prevent these negative effects. However, they reported to the EPA that GenX causes similar effects to PFOA and may not be serving its role as an alternative that is better for health and the environment. The Intercept has published an article on these Toxic Substance Control Act reports.
In lab tests animals experienced organ growth, various forms of cancer, adverse changes in fat processing, birth defects, and more. DuPont stated that these results should not be found to be concerns for human health, and downplayed the correlation between the introduction of the chemical and those results. However, the same dismissal had been used to justify PFOA use before links to negative effects in humans were proven.
The EPA accepted DuPont’s submissions on GenX and did not call for further testing. In fact, despite links to detrimental health effects, the only action taken by the EPA against PFOA has been to test for its levels in drinking water rather than banning or regulating its production. The EPA cannot afford to spend its limited resources fighting cases against industrial giants who can hire scientists and defense teams to fight back. PFOA has been detected in many water sources, including most notably in Flint, Michigan. The Center for Disease Control has reported that the blood of 99.7% of Americans contains PFOA. In a letter to The Intercept, two EPA scientists wrote that the “toxicity and environmental persistence” of GenX is “likely to be similar” to the chemicals it is meant to substitute. Furthermore, much of their work to test GenX has been blocked by a loophole which conceals “confidential business information”.
With the eyes of the nation on Flint, Michigan and environmental health and justice issues in the mainstream conversation, these problems will receive more attention. But for now, not even the federal government has the power to enforce change against DuPont, 3M, and other chemical producers. For much more information on GenX and these topics, read the articles linked above.
Flint Residents May Have Been Drinking Pfcs in Addition to Lead, The Intercept, February 17, 2016.