Water contamination continues to be an issue that gets top billing with chemical companies around the world. Recent reports from New England indicate that a chemical used in the manufacture of microwaveable popcorn bags, Teflon-coated cookware and firefighting foam has contaminated the water supply. Unlike in Flint, Michigan, the contaminant is not lead. Chemical companies have removed this ingredient from the manufacture of multiple products, owing to its toxicity. However, the chemical that it has been substituted with is possibly toxic too.
The chemicals come from a class known as C8s, owing to the fact that they contain 8 carbons. Back in 2005, chemical giant DuPont settled a lawsuit which involved these very chemicals. The health problems associated with contamination of this chemical include thyroid disease, high cholesterol and kidney cancer among others. Since 2015, US chemical companies no longer use C8s such as PFOA C8 chemicals.
One major chemical giant – Saint Gobain (valued at over $50 billion) – has a Merrimack plastics plant which weaves fabric from glass threading for use in hazmat suits (hazardous materials). This material is slippery and impervious to biological agents and it has multiple applications in everyday life. The substance that is used to produce this fabric is known as PTFE. It is a repellent coating that is also used on nonstick (Teflon) pots and pans.
Saint Gobain maintains that the precise ‘ingredients’ of the chemical – PTFE – are an industry secret. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approximately 20% of chemicals are comprised of secret formulas. However, the New Hampshire environmental regulator is aware of the chemical that has replaced PFOA. C8 chemicals have been replaced by C6 chemicals which contain fluorocarbons with just 6 carbons. Chemical industry experts maintain that they are 100% safe to use given the knowledge that is readily available. According to Saint-Gobain , the
Environmental Protection Agency has inventoried the replacement chemical, but not yet approved it. The efficacy and safety of C6 chemicals have not yet been fully evaluated by the EPA, given that congressional laws are several decades behind existing technology.
C8 has been responsible for a minimum of 3,500 lawsuits against DuPont. In 2005, the company was fined a total of $16.5 million for failure to disclose relevant information to the EPA about birth defects vis-a-vis the chemical. C8 was originally created by 3M Company and then it was sold to DuPont chemical company. However, 3M discontinued use of the chemical in 2000 and from that point on, DuPont manufactured its own supply. Now, neither 3M nor DuPont utilises C8, as it has been replaced by C6. The dilution of C8 in drinking water is supposed to be 500 PPB, while DuPont diluted it to just 50 PPB (parts per billion).