Makers of toxic ‘forever chemical’ PFAs knew dangers but covered them up, reveals investigation
Scientists discovered last year that rainwater across the world could be polluted by ‘per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,’ (PFAs), or ‘forever chemicals,’ leaving it unfit for human consumption. Now, an analysis of previously secret industry documents has revealed that the industries making these chemicals knew about the harms but chose to suppress that information.
The study inspected documents from DuPont and 3M, the largest manufacturers of PFAs. It analysed the techniques used by the industry to delay public awareness of the toxicity of these chemicals. This in turn could have delayed regulations on their use.
‘Our review of industry documents shows that companies knew PFAS was ‘highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested’ by 1970, forty years before the public health community. Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical and other industries to influence science and regulation – most notably, suppressing unfavourable research and distorting public discourse,’ wrote the researchers in a study published in the journal Annals of Global Health.
These industry documents analysed in the study were discovered in a lawsuit filed by lawyer Robert Bilott, who the New York Times magazine described as ‘the lawyer who became DuPont’s worst nightmare’ after he successfully sued the company for PFA contamination.
The documents are from a time span of 45 years between 1961 and 2006 and Billot gave them to the producers of the documentary ‘The Devil We Know,’ who donated them to the Chemical Industry Documents Library at the University of California San Francisco.
Within these documents, scientists identified internal studies that showed that DuPont had evidence of the toxicity of the chemicals from animal and occupational studies. But the company did not publish the studies and also failed to report the findings to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Reporting this was mandatory under the US Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
All of these documents were marked as ‘confidential,’ and in some cases, according to the researchers, industry executives explicitly said that they ‘wanted this memo destroyed.’
The timeline of suppression of information
The research paper also documents a timeline of what the industry knew about the dangers of PFAs while the public remained in the dark.
1961- Enlargement of organs in rats
DuPont already knew in 1961 that PFAs could cause severe toxicity and the enlargement of organs in rats. A 1961 report from Teflon’s Polychemicals Research and Development Department found that Teflon materials would ‘increase the size of the liver of rats at low doses.’ The report went on to state the materials should be handled with extreme care and ‘contact with the skin should be strictly avoided.’
1970- Causing death when inhaled or ingested
In 1970, internal memo documents on studies by Haskell Laboratory found that C8, a PFA, was ‘highly toxic’ when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested. Haskell was founded and funded by DuPont to study the health effects of its products.
1979- A range of toxic effects
Haskell labs prepared a 1979 private report for DuPont, which says that a series of animal tests with the chemical APFO, another PFA, created a range of toxic effects. From liver enlargement to ‘corneal opacity and ulceration,’ the chemical caused many adverse effects during the test. Researchers also administered a single dose to two dogs, who died just two days after, showing signs indicative of cellular damage.
1980- Employees’ children born with birth defects
By 1980, the damaging effects of PFAs had hit far closer to home for the industry. That year, the employee relations department of DuPont and 3M issued a questionnaire for information about workers’ pregnancies. It found that in the eight pregnancies that happened during the period of interest, two babies were born with birth defects.
One had eye defects and a single nostril, the other was born with eye and tear duct defects. A third child had detectable PFAs in cord blood, which is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth.
After this survey and knowledge about the birth defects, DuPont decided to remove employees from areas where they were exposed to the chemical. But the company did not publish the results of any study and it did not inform the employees about it either.
(News Source -Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Times Of Nation staff and is published from a indianexpress.com feed.)
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