EPA finds possible risks in Teflon, will study further

The U.S. EPA yesterday released the preliminary results of its inquiry into the health effects of a chemical used in making Teflon, saying it found “a potential risk of developmental and other adverse effects” but also that there are “significant uncertainties” in its assessment. The agency has called together a special panel for further study of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, an agent used to make fluoropolymers, which in turn are involved in the manufacture not only of Teflon but telephone cables, clothing, computer chips, carpets, and other consumer goods. Part of the uncertainty issues from the fact that while PFOA is used in manufacturing, it is not found in products themselves, so no one knows why it is so ubiquitous, both in the environment and in human blood, where it takes a very long time to break down. Some evidence indicates it may cause cancer and other maladies in animals (though at doses higher than those yet found in humans). Dupont, which makes Teflon, denies any adverse health effects; the Environmental Working Group says the EPA’s assessment is highly biased in Dupont’s favor.