Lurking Dangers in Everyday Goods

The chemicals known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) belong to a class of chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals. From recent studies it has been seen that the concentration of these chemicals has been increasing in both our water supplies and our blood serum. Studies in the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, indicate that these chemicals have a strong correlation with thyroid disease (Melzer). Other animal studies also indicate strong links with neonatal deaths, cancer, and immune problems (Steenland). It seems logical that such dangerous chemicals would be strictly regulated and banned from consumer markets. However, this chemical is seen in a large variety of consumer products the most surprising of which is nonstick cookware. There are many plausible ways that we can come into contact with this chemical. By overheating nonstick pans, it is possible for the chemicals to partially liquefy and combine with food. By using old pans, it is possible for the chemicals to peel off from the pan (Melzer). With such risks, regulations need to be enacted to help control the use of such chemicals in consumer products. These regulations need not only apply to PFOA and PTFE. There are many other potentially dangerous chemicals that are used in consumer goods and services. It is the government’s responsibility to enact controls on such chemical manufacturing companies to protect the consumers.

Many people in the United States choose nonstick cookware due to its unique characteristics that make cleaning and cooking convenient. However, using a surface that is potentially carcinogenic and disease-causing even if it only occurs in a small percentage of the population, is not safe. It is the responsibility of executive agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to monitor these products for the overall safety of the consumers. The EPA has taken some action in this matter by requiring companies to phase out long chain perfluorinated chemicals by the year 2015 (“Long”). However, these products are still in effect today and blood serum concentrations are still increasing. The long term effects of these chemicals have yet to be seen but based on the preliminary risks, I believe that the EPA should be taking a stronger stance on this matter in dealing with companies such as DuPont and 3M.

With consumers being exposed to such high risk chemicals on a daily basis, it is necessary for agencies such as the EPA to formulate a plan of action to educate the public concerning the risks of exposure to such chemicals and provide a means to file for health related compensation from the companies at fault. When the increase in PFOAs and PTFEs in the water supplies and blood serum was first noticed, there was an unusually high concentration surrounding certain areas including the 3M plant in Minnesota and the Dupont plant in Virginia (“Long”).  This is what initially indicated that the products in these plants may pose some risk to those involved in the manufacturing and the consumers as well. These chemical manufacturing companies that deal with consumer products need to be well regulated. These problems should be determined and dealt with far before they are able to affect the consumers.

It is understandable that these findings have not been strongly dealt with properly by the companies. It is natural that the companies involved will want to preserve their profit margin. The EPA, on the other hand, does not have an overwhelming reason why they are not taking actions such as requiring companies that use PFOA and PTFE in their products to post on warning stating the risks. The purpose of the government is to protect its citizens. Allowing the corporate world to quietly phase out their potentially dangerous products while putting consumers at risk does not fall under providing for the welfare of the people.

References

  1. “Long-Chain Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) Action Plan Summary | Existing Chemicals | OPPT | US EPA.” US Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. <http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/pfcs.html>.
  2. Melzer, David. “Association between Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Thyroid Disease in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Environmental Health Perspectives 118.5 (2010): 686-92. Health Source: Consumer Edition. Web. 10 Feb. 2011.
  3. Steenland, Kyle. “Epidemiologic Evidence on the Health Effects of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA).” Environmental Health Perspectives 118.8 (2010). Health Source: Consumer Edition. Web. 10 Feb. 2011.

Written by The Triple Helix at Ohio State University

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