If you’ve ever eaten a pizza, put on a raincoat, or wiped up a spill on your stain-resistant carpet, you’ve most likely experienced the miraculous properties of a class of chemicals used to make non-stick, waterproof, and stain resistant coatings. While they might keep our pizza fresh, our bodies dry, and our carpets free of stains, scientists say these chemicals have put consumers’ health in a sticky situation.
Last week, over 200 scientists signed the “Madrid Statement” calling for an end to the use of a class of chemicals commonly referred to as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs or PFAs). The statement cites evidence that PFCs are linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and other health problems, and that they don’t break down in the environment, instead staying around for decades, exposing people and wildlife.
Teflon Trouble Leads To More Of The Same
Scientific concern about PFCs isn’t new. A few years ago, concern over the use of one PFC in Teflon coatings (and a lawsuit) resulted in the chemical makers DuPont and 3M stopping its production. But instead of switching to safer chemicals or materials to keep food fresh and carpets stain-free, the chemical makers and product manufacturers started using other PFCs, similar chemicals with similar problems.
Who’s In Charge Of Chemical Safety?
If this story of companies switching out one bad chemical for another sounds familiar, that’s because it is—think flame retardants, and just-as-bad substitutes for bisphenol A (BPA).
Banning one chemical at a time isn’t doing much good if companies end up using an equally harmful chemical. Somebody needs to be the gatekeeper and it can’t be the chemical industry. The logical solution is to have experts with government agencies assess chemicals and regulate those that prove to be harmful. Because until then, consumers just keep coming back to square one, subject to the whims of the chemical makers and product manufacturers.
What Should Consumers Do?
The scientists also recommend consumers avoid products containing the chemicals. Here are some tips on how to avoid them. Also, you can check out our ideas for kids’ waterproof rain gear.
- Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods, as the packages may contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes.
- Avoid stain-resistance treatments on furniture, carpets, and clothing.
- Don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster® to products.
- Where possible, choose alternatives to products that have been treated for water resistance, such as outerwear, sportswear, and camping and sporting equipment.
- Avoid personal-care products made with Teflon™ or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” Dental floss, nail polish, moisturizers, and eye make-up are a few products that can contain PFCs.
- Avoid Teflon™ or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick, be careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.