What is PFOA?

People often ask me about the environmental factors that can affect our health.  Nathaniel Rich’s “Rob Bilott vs. DuPont” in The New York Times Magazine explores this exact issue through, as the title suggests, Bilott’s lawsuit against DuPont.

Wilbur Tennant, a cattle rancher, contacted Bilott in the 1990s.Tennant’s cattle were dying, and he believed DuPont was responsible. The suit, which was filed in 1999, revolves around DuPont and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contaminating water in West Virginia.

Some background—Bilott is a lawyer who has worked for years in environment law for the chemical industry. Because of his work he “has mastered the chemistry of pollutants.” Despite this extensive chemical background, he had never heard of PFOA, and “it did not appear on any list of regulated materials.”

I know we have heard numerous stories about water contamination (just recently think of Flint, Michigan), and you’re probably wondering how do these events in West Virginia affect me?

I am just going to high some of the key points from Rich’s article; please click on the article link to read the full piece.  An intriguing read.

The key points:

  • “PFOA was only one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals produced and released into the world without regulatory oversight.”
  • “Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the E.P.A. 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 E.P.A has restricted only five chemicals.” Just think about that; only five chemicals banned in 40 years!
  • “PFOA and its replacements are suspected to belong to a large class of artificial compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals; these compounds, which include chemicals used in the production of pesticides, plastics and gasoline, interfere with human reproduction and metabolism and cause cancer, thyroid problems and nervous system disorders.” Think back a few years to the controversy surrounding Bisphenol A (BPA), another endocrine disruptor, found in plastics.
  • “But if you are a sentient being reading this article in 2016, you already have PFOA in your blood. It’s in your parents’ blood, your lover’s blood. How did it get there? Through the air, through your use of nonstick cookware , through your umbilical cord. Or you might have drunk tainted water.” You might want to think twice before selecting a pan to prepare your next meal
  • The Environmental Working Group has found manufactured fluorochemicals present in 94 water districts across 27 states.” Rich’s article has a sidebar listing these states. This is how a lawsuit in West Virginia affects you and your family.

The above facts only highlight one chemical. Think about the other 60,000 plus ones that have been released into our world as well as the potential interactions of these chemicals with one another.

Remember, Bilott’s lawsuit was filed in 1999; it wasn’t until 2013 DuPont ceased production and use of PFOA—fourteen years after the suit was filed. Frightening to think about this reality.

Currently, 3,534 plaintiffs have filed personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont regarding PFOA; Rich points out, at four trials a year, DuPont will be fighting PFOA cases until 2890!

Since this is an election year, do you know which industries are supporting your candidates and have your candidates received donations from those industries?

Even with overwhelming odds against us, we must find our voice and demand our rights to a cleaner environment—your health and the health of those you love depend on it.