Research & Reports / Water Quality

Toxic legacy: ‘Teflon’ chemical sticks around in water supplies

Credit: Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource. Click to explore your region's water supplies now

Credit: Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource. Click to explore your region’s water supplies now

WHEELING, WV — “For more than half a century along the Ohio River, the chemical company DuPont provided jobs for thousands of people. One chemical they produced is PFOA, commonly known as C8. It was a remarkably useful compound, used in ‘Teflon’ non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and even in some food wrappers.

Over time, researchers have found that C8 is also toxic. DuPont and other companies phased out U.S. production a few years ago. Now it’s made in China.

But because the chemical can persist in water, communities along the Ohio River — and around the U.S. — are still grappling with the environmental fallout of contamination from C8 and similar chemicals. The ReSource generated a map using water testing data available from the U.S. EPA. It shows 12 water systems in 10 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia where these chemicals were detected in the water.

…The contamination in this region eventually lead to a broad medical study of affected residents in the early 2000s. Over 30,000 community members were involved. The study linked C8 to multiple health problems from cancer to reduced immune function. A series of additional health studies followed, and further proved that chemical compounds like C8 – which used to be blown out of smokestacks and scattered across the Ohio Valley – are dangerous, even in small doses.

‘They stay in the body for a long time,’ said Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard’s School of Public Health. He’s an expert on health effects of perfluorinated chemicals like C8. One of his latest studies looks at long term effects of these chemicals on the immune systems of exposed children.

‘While they harm the immune system today,’ Grandjean said, ‘they probably also will down the road. And that’s exactly what we found.'”

— Glynis Board, The Ohio Valley ReSource

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