How Chemical Defense Attorney Blew the Lid Off PFOA and Teflon Dangers

Toxic PFOA

Story at-a-glance

  • PFOA was an essential ingredient in DuPont’s Teflon cookware for decades. It’s also used in hundreds of other non-stick and stain-resistant products. PFOA is now the subject of about 3,500 personal injury claims against DuPont
  • Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used to create non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-repellant surfaces are toxic and highly persistent, both in your body and in the environment
  • The Madrid Statement, signed by more than 200 scientists from 40 countries, presents the scientific consensus on the harms of PFAS chemicals, both old and new


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

If you're still using non-stick cookware, you may want to seriously reconsider. Ditto for using stain- and water-repellant clothing, and opting for stain-resistant carpets and fabrics.

All of these products — and many more — contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, also known as C8), which has been revealed to be far more dangerous than previously thought.

For 50 years, DuPont used PFOA to make Teflon. Throughout that time, the company has defended the safety of PFOA, and still resists accountability for health problems resulting from exposure to this day. However, the truth has finally come to light.

I started warning people about the potential hazards of Teflon over 15 years ago. As a result, I was legally threatened by DuPont many times.

The evidence is now crystal clear for everyone to see, just as I have warned of for the last decade and a half. The dangers have become undeniable, and DuPont's connection to this pernicious poison is starting to receive attention in the mainstream media.

The New York Times recently published an in-depth exposé1 on the legal battle fought against DuPont for the past 15 years over PFOA contamination and its toxic effects. I highly recommend reading through it; it's an excellent read.

Last year, The Intercept also published a three-part exposé2 titled "The Teflon Toxin: Dupont and the Chemistry of Deception," detailing DuPont's history of covering up the facts.

Chemical Defense Attorney Became DuPont's Greatest Nemesis

For the past 15 years, Rob Bilott — an environmental attorney and partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister — has waged a legal battle against DuPont. He's an unlikely nemesis for a chemical company, as the firm specializes in defending corporate clients, including chemical companies.

How he came to take on DuPont on behalf of a West Virginia farmer is detailed in the featured New York Times article. The farmer had reluctantly sold 66 acres of land to DuPont in the early 1980s, for the establishment of a company landfill.

The tract of land sold to DuPont had a creek running through it, which meandered down to the area where the farmer grazed his cows.

Not long after the sale, his cattle "began acting deranged" and developed mysterious ailments. More than 150 of his cattle had died by the time the farmer, Wilbur Tennant, contacted Bilott.

In response to Bilott's initial suit, filed in 1999, DuPont offered to commission a study of Tennant's property, with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study was conducted by three veterinarians selected by DuPont, and three chosen by the EPA.

As reported in the featured article:

"Their report did not find DuPont responsible for the cattle's health problems. The culprit, instead, was poor husbandry: 'poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care and lack of fly control.'

In other words, the Tennants didn't know how to raise cattle; if the cows were dying, it was their own fault."

However, a letter sent by DuPont to the EPA mentioned a substance found at the landfill that Bilott had never heard of before, despite his chemical industry expertise. That substance was "PFOA."

The chemistry expert retained for the case recalled reading about "PFOS" in a trade journal, used in the manufacturing of Scotchgard.

Since he couldn't find any details about PFOA, Bilott asked DuPont to share what it knew about the substance. When the company refused, he requested a court order to force the release of the documentation, which was granted.

Internal Documents Revealed DuPont's Guilt

By the end of 2000, he stood in receipt of more than 110,000 pages of material relating to PFOA, some of which dated back 50 years. Among the documents were private internal memos, medical reports, and confidential studies conducted by scientists at DuPont. As reported in the featured article:

"I started seeing a story' Bilott said. 'I may have been the first one to actually go through them all.

It became apparent what was going on: They had known for a long time that this stuff was bad' ... The story that Bilott began to see ... was astounding in its breadth, specificity and sheer brazenness.

'I was shocked,' he said ... Bilott could not believe the scale of incriminating material that DuPont had sent him.

The company appeared not to realize what it had handed over. 'It was one of those things where you can't believe you're reading what you're reading,' he said. ''That it's actually been put in writing ...

But the crucial discovery for the Tennant case was this: By the late 1980s ... [Dupont] decided it needed to find a landfill for the toxic sludge ... Fortunately they had recently bought 66 acres ... that would do perfectly.

By 1990, DuPont had dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA sludge into Dry Run Landfill. DuPont's scientists understood that the landfill drained into the Tennants' remaining property, and they tested the water in Dry Run Creek. It contained an extraordinarily high concentration of PFOA.

DuPont did not tell this to the Tennants at the time, nor did it disclose the fact in the cattle report that it commissioned for the Tennant case a decade later — the report that blamed poor husbandry for the deaths of their cows. Bilott had what he needed ...

In August 2000, Bilott called DuPont's lawyer, Bernard Reilly, and explained that he knew what was going on. It was a brief conversation. The Tennants settled ..."

Other Shocking Findings

According to the paperwork, DuPont's own disposal recommendations specified PFOA should not be flushed into surface water or sewers, yet over the decades, the company disposed of hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder into the Ohio River.

The PFOA-laced sludge that went into the landfill on the property purchased from Tennant also entered the water table supplying drinking water to more than 100,000 residents in Parkersburg, Vienna, Little Hocking and Lubeck.

The documents further revealed that for four decades, 3M and DuPont had conducted secret medical studies on PFOA, revealing potential health problems in rats and rabbits as early as 1961.

In the following decade, DuPont discovered its factory workers had high levels of PFOA in their blood, but they didn't tell the EPA about it.

In 1981, 3M found that ingestion of PFOA resulted in birth defects in rats, after which DuPont tested the children of pregnant employees in their Teflon division. Two of the seven children had eye defects.

DuPont again chose not to share the information publicly. In 1984, DuPont became aware that PFOA was present in the local water supply. By 1991, one of the local water districts had PFOA levels that were three times higher than DuPont's own internally established safety limit for drinking water, set at one part per billion (ppb). Still the company kept quiet.

As reported by The New York Times:

"By the '90s, Bilott discovered, DuPont understood that PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals. One laboratory study suggested possible DNA damage from PFOA exposure, and a study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer."

At that time, DuPont decided to develop an alternative to PFOA. In 1993, they had found a "viable candidate" that appeared less toxic. Alas, the company decided against the switch, as it might have impacted profits.

Bilott Continues to Pursue DuPont on Behalf of the Public

After settling the Tennants' case, Bilott decided to pursue DuPont for further damages. After all, if PFOA-tainted drinking water could harm and kill cows, what might it be doing to all the people drinking contaminated water?

Bilott drafted a 972-pages long public brief against DuPont, referred to by his colleagues as "Rob's Famous Letter," which in March, 2001 was sent to the director of every relevant regulatory authority, including the EPA and the U.S. attorney general. In response, DuPont requested a gag order to prevent Bilott from sharing the information he found in the Tennant case. The request was denied, and Bilott sent everything he had to the EPA.

As reported by The New York Times:

"With the Famous Letter, Bilott crossed a line ... He had become a threat not merely to DuPont but also to, in the words of one internal memo, 'the entire fluoropolymers industry' — an industry responsible for the high-performance plastics used in many modern devices, including kitchen products, computer cables, implantable medical devices and bearings and seals used in cars and airplanes.

PFOA was only one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals that companies produced and released into the world without regulatory oversight.

'Rob's letter lifted the curtain on a whole new theater' says Harry Deitzler, a plaintiff's lawyer in West Virginia who works with Bilott. 'Before that letter, corporations could rely upon the public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated.'

Under the 1976 Toxic Sub­stances Control Act, the EPA can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the EPA has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years." [Emphasis mine]

Next, Bilott pursued a class-action lawsuit against DuPont on behalf of everyone who'd been drinking PFOA-tainted water — about 70,000 people in six water districts, plus dozens of private wells. The EPA also began its own investigation of PFOA, based on the information provided by Bilott.

In 2002, the EPA announced PFOA may pose a health risk to the general public — both via contaminated water and Teflon cookware. DuPont's own research shows that when its non-stick cookware is heated it breaks down into no less than 15 toxic gases and particles, mostly fluorine based.3,4

DuPont's Legal Woes Just Keep Getting Worse

In 2005, the EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act by withholding decades' worth of information about health hazards associated with PFOA. At the time, that fine was the largest the EPA had ever assessed, yet it represented less than two percent of the profits DuPont had earned on PFOA that year, so it was hardly a deterrent.

That same year, a panel of scientists was also convened to determine PFOA's effect on human health. After seven years of research, the results of which are detailed in more than three dozen peer-reviewed papers,5 the C8 Science Panel linked PFOA to:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Thyroid disease
  • Testicular- and kidney cancer

So far, some 3,500 individuals have sued DuPont for damages. The first case to reach trial was that of an Ohio woman named Carla Bartlett, who claimed PFOA-contaminated tap water caused her to develop kidney cancer.6 The case went to trial in September, 2015. DuPont/Chemours was found liable for negligence in this case,7 and the jury awarded Bartlett a total of $1.6 million in damages. DuPont is reportedly planning to appeal. As noted by The New York Times:

"DuPont's continuing refusal to accept responsibility is maddening to Bilott. 'To think that you've negotiated in good faith a deal that everybody has abided by and worked on for seven years, you reach a point where certain things were to be resolved but then remain contested,' he says. 'I think about the clients who have been waiting for this, many of whom are sick or have died while waiting. It's infuriating.''

Is Your Drinking Water Contaminated With PFOA?

In August 2015, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a Teflon report8,9,10 noting that PFOA has been found in 94 water districts across 27 states. The EWG also highlights recent research showing that PFOA is dangerous at levels 1,300 times lower than previously recognized by the EPA! According to the report:

"... [T]wo leading environmental health scientists have published research with alarming implications...[E]ven very tiny concentrations of PFOA — below the reporting limit required by EPA's tests of public water supplies — are harmful. This means that EPA's health advisory level is hundreds or thousands of times too weak to fully protect human health with an adequate margin of safety."

Areas with higher concentrations of PFOA include Issaquah, Washington; Wilmington, Delaware; Colorado Springs; Nassau County on Long Island; and Parkersburg, West Virginia.11 With the exception of Parkersburg, these districts were all included in Bilott's class-action lawsuit against DuPont.

Tests have also revealed that PFOA is present in the blood of virtually all Americans, including babies, as it transfers from the mother to the child via umbilical cord blood and breast milk. PFOA, which is very resistant to degradation, has also been found in wild animals all over the globe. Even albatrosses on Sand Island, a wildlife refuge in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, have the chemical in their system.

As noted by The Intercept:12

"Although DuPont no longer uses C8, fully removing the chemical from all the bodies of water and bloodstreams it pollutes is now impossible. And, because it is so chemically stable — in fact, as far as scientists can determine, it never breaks down — C8 is expected to remain on the planet well after humans are gone from it."

Hundreds of Scientists Issue Warning Over PFAS

Last May, more than 200 scientists from 40 countries signed the so-called Madrid Statement,13,14 which warns about the harms of all fluorochemicals (PFAS), both old and new. It lists many of the documented health effects associated with the older, long-chain PFASs, including the following:15

Liver toxicity

Disruption of lipid metabolism, and the immune and endocrine systems

Adverse neurobehavioral effects

Neonatal toxicity and death

Tumors in multiple organ systems

Testicular and kidney cancers

Liver malfunction


High cholesterol

Ulcerative colitis

Reduced birth weight and size


Decreased immune response to vaccines

Reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty

The Statement also points out that:

1. Although some of the long-chain PFASs are being regulated or phased out, the most common replacements are short-chain PFASs with similar structures, or compounds with fluorinated segments joined by ether linkages.

2. While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances or have persistent degradation products.

Thus, a switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance.

3. While many fluorinated alternatives are being marketed, little information is publicly available on their chemical structures, properties, uses, and toxicological profiles.

4. Increasing use of fluorinated alternatives will lead to increasing levels of stable perfluorinated degradation products in the environment, and possibly also in biota and humans. This would increase the risks of adverse effects on human health and the environment.

New Reform Law May Gut State Rules on Hazardous Chemicals

While it's becoming clear that we need much more stringent regulations on chemicals, proposed updates to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act may actually hinder efforts to protect Americans against hazardous chemicals by nullifying chemical regulations enacted by individual states.

The Senate's bill (The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act), which was passed in December 2015, makes it more difficult for states to regulate chemicals once the EPA has evaluated them. It also prohibits states from taking any action against any chemical that the EPA is currently investigating.

The House version (the TSCA Modernization Act) — which preempts states from regulating new chemicals, and is supported by more than 100 industry groups — was passed in June 2015. At present, they're trying to reconcile the two bills, as they contain a number of differences. As reported by The Intercept:16

"Although the Senate's TSCA bill would leave existing state restrictions on specific chemicals intact, provisions in the bill would stop states from setting regulations going forward — and obliterate efforts that are already underway. Take Washington state's pending legislation to ban a group of flame retardant chemicals used in furniture and children's products.

Advocates there have been working for years to ban these endocrine disruptors and likely human carcinogens ... Although Washington's House passed the ban 95-3 and the state Senate is working on a similar bill, TSCA reform could invalidate the whole thing. If the EPA puts these flame retardants on its yet-to-be-drafted priority list ... the Senate bill would preempt new state efforts to restrict them ...

In addition to limiting state regulations, the TSCA reform bills now being combined into one law contain provisions making it harder to intercept dangerous chemical imports at the U.S. border and requiring the EPA to designate some chemicals 'low priority' without fully evaluating them. And neither version addresses the huge problem of companies being allowed to introduce new chemicals to the market without first proving their safety."

How to Avoid These Dangerous Chemicals

It's quite clear that the chemical industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself, and DuPont stands as a shining example of this. It can take decades before a dangerous chemical is recognized as such, and then the company can simply switch over to another untested, unregulated chemical, and the whack-a-mole game continues — all because chemicals do not have to be proven safe before they're used. As noted by The New York Times:

"'The thought that DuPont could get away with this for this long,' Bilott says, his tone landing halfway between wonder and rage, 'that they could keep making a profit off it, then get the agreement of the governmental agencies to slowly phase it out, only to replace it with an alternative with unknown human effects — we told the agencies about this in 2001, and they've essentially done nothing.

That's 14 years of this stuff continuing to be used, continuing to be in the drinking water all over the country. DuPont just quietly switches over to the next substance. And in the meantime, they fight everyone who has been injured by it.'''

The Madrid Statement17 recommends avoiding any and all products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs, noting they include products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or non-stick. More helpful tips can be found in the EWG's "Guide to Avoiding PFCS."18

Besides listing a number of sportswear brands known to use PFCs in their shoes and clothing, the Guide also notes that Apple admits the wristband of its new Apple Watch Sport model is made with PFCs. Other suggestions that will help you avoid these dangerous chemicals include avoiding:

Items that have been pre-treated with stain-repellants, and opt out of such treatments when buying new furniture and carpets

Water- and/or stain-repellant clothing. One tipoff is when an item made with artificial fibers is described as "breathable." These are typically treated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a synthetic fluoropolymer

Items treated with flame retardant chemicals,19 which include a wide variety of baby items, padded furniture, mattresses and pillows. Instead, opt for naturally less flammable materials such as leather, wool, and cotton

Fast food and carry out foods, as the wrappers are typically treated with PFCs

Microwave popcorn. PFOA may not only present in the inner coating of the bag, it also may migrate to the oil from the packaging during heating. Instead, use "old-fashioned" stovetop popcorn

Non-stick cookware and other treated kitchen utensils. Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean (even the toughest cooked-on foods can be wiped away after soaking it in warm water), and completely inert, which means they won't release any harmful chemicals into your home.

While some will recommend using aluminum, stainless steel, and copper cookware, I don't for the following reasons:

Aluminum is a strongly suspected causal factor in Alzheimer's disease, and stainless steel has alloys containing nickel, chromium, molybdenum, and carbon. For those with nickel allergies, this may be a particularly important consideration. Copper cookware is also not recommended because most copper pans come lined with other metals, creating the same concerns noted above. (Copper cookware must be lined due to the possibility of copper poisoning.)

Oral-B Glide floss and any other personal care products containing PTFE or "fluoro" or "perfluoro" ingredients. The EWG has an excellent database called "Skin Deep"20 you can peruse to find healthier options


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