- The coating on non-stick pans used in millions of kitchens
throughout the world has been linked to birth defects in humans and to
the deaths of pets.
- Chemical firms face claims that perfluorinated organic
chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is in Teflon -
first used in 1945 - and oil- and water-resistant coatings, are a health
- Du Pont, which makes Teflon, has to answer accusations
in the United States this week that it had evidence about dangers posed
by PFOA but deliberately and illegally kept it secret. The US Environmental
Protection Agency says that Du Pont concealed its own 1981 research showing
that its pregnant workers were passing the chemical to their unborn children.
- In addition, in 1991, it failed to report evidence that
the chemical had contaminated the water supply to 12,000 people.
- Du Pont has four days left to contest the charges - and
a potential fine of $300 million (£160 million).
- Bucky Bailey is a member of one of eight families living
near the Du Pont factory in Parkersburg, West Virginia, who are suing the
company over the effects of PFOA.
- His mother, Sue Bailey, was a factory worker exposed
to PFOA while pregnant. Mr Bailey was born with only one nostril and other
facial defects for which he has had 30 operations.
- He has recently married, but does not intend to have
children in case they inherit his condition. He is now determined to hold
Du Pont to account.
- "I want them to admit that they made a mistake,
to say they messed up and that they're going to do everything they can
to help," Mr Bailey said.
- Dr Tim Kropp, the senior scientist at the Environmental
Working Group, an organisation in Washington DC, said: "The Environmental
Protection Agency should force Du Pont to pay a punishing fine such that
it sends out a signal to all chemical manufacturers that it is not profitable
to withhold critical information.
- "The Teflon chemical PFOA, like other fluorochemicals,
is in people everywhere. It never breaks down in the environment and it's
toxic at or near levels found in humans."
- Clifton Webb, Du Pont's director of public affairs, denied
that his company had acted incorrectly.
- "We believe that we acted completely within the
law and we have the facts that will substantiate our position," he
said. Mr Webb added that despite evidence of exposure in the womb, and
of water contamination, there was no evidence that actual harm resulted
from PFOA exposure and so the company was not legally bound to release
- "We stuck to the letter of the law," he said.
"We have had 50 years of experience with PFOA and none of that experience
suggests harmful effects resulting from exposure."
- A separate health concern over Teflon is that when non-stick
pans are overheated they release fumes that cause "Teflon flu".
Mr Webb said that the condition, which causes aches and chills, was "temporary
and soon passes".
- Pet birds, however, are easily killed by the fumes. Retief
Ehlers, a veterinary surgeon in London with a special interest in exotic
birds, said: "Small birds such as budgies, finches and cockatiels
are particularly at risk."
- Mr Webb said that the kitchen was "not a place to
have birds because they have very sensitive respiratory systems".
He also said that the temperatures required to overheat Teflon pans would
burn food, the fumes from which could also harm pet birds and humans.
- Karine Pellaumail, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth,
said: "There are real concerns about the safety of these chemicals
and, like all substances that persist in the human body and the environment,
we would like to see them all phased out."
- Campaigners anticipate resistance to any attempt to ban
perfluorinated polymers. Their unusual combination of properties - water
and oil resistance and near-imperviousness to heat - have resulted in their
use in many consumer products and in a host of industrial settings.
- In Britain, the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (Defra) plans to restrict their use.
- Alun Michael, an environment minister, said that the
chemicals represented "a real and significant risk to the population
and environment in the UK". He has indicated that Britain will act
unilaterally in Europe by banning one chemical of the class, perfluorooctane
sulphonate, in line with the US.
- The chemical company 3M withdrew all of its Scotchguard
products containing the chemical in 2000 after pressure from the US Environmental
- A spokesman for Defra said that there were also concerns
about the PFOA used in Teflon and that it would study the results of a
US safety review.
- One authority on perfluorinated polymers, Dr Jonathan
Martin of Toronto University, said he considered the PFOA in Teflon to
be potentially as harmful as the banned perfluorooctane sulphonate.
- "It's not true that risks are less. PFOA has been
recognised as a rat carcinogen for decades," he said.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/
- From Mary Sparrowdancer
- I am going to make nearly the same comment on the Teflon
problems as the comment I sent to you regarding Prozac now being found
in people's drinking water.
- My comment on Prozac is as follows:
- "Once again, despite the concerns raised here, the
'F' word has been carefully omitted from the report and study.
- "Prozac is a fluorinated pharmaceutical. It is a
fluoride compound. Among other things, fluoride is also known to be a
- Having stated the above, I would like to now also that
Teflon is another fluoride compound.
- My fear is that people will hear "C-8" or "perfluorooctanoic
acid" and not realize that these are more names for a fluoride compound.
- I will use the same closing statement that I used for
the Prozac comment: "Someone has created a monster. We need to wake
up and recognize it - while we can still see and think."
- Mary Sparrowdancer