EPA Says Newer Nonstick Compounds May be Harmful, Local Researchers Concerned

CCB MEDIA PHOTO: Dr. Laurel Schaider with the Silent Spring Institute.

HYANNIS – The Environmental Protection Agency is warning the public about possible long-term health effects from exposure to a compound used in nonstick coatings.

The agency issued draft toxicity assessments for two newer chemical compounds which were supposed to be safer versions of PFAS chemicals.

Older versions of the highly fluorinated chemicals have turned up in dangerous levels in drinking water supplies on Cape Cod and across the country and are no longer produced in the U.S.

“In the case of one of them they concluded that levels of exposure that they think will not be associated with harmful health effects were about four times higher than for PFAS and PFOS,” said Dr. Laurel Schaider, a Silent Spring Institute Researcher.

The assessment shows the compound, known as GenX, which is used in making Teflon, could be dangerous even in minute amounts.

“This is really a much broader class of chemicals that all share the same properties of being highly fluorinated which makes them extremely persistent in the environment,” Schaider said. “And we want to avoid the situation of swapping out one chemical that we know is harmful for another chemical that is similar and we may later learn is harmful.”

Schaider said, in general, researchers think it makes sense to reduce exposures to the compounds as a whole given their extreme persistence and the uncertainties about potential health effects.

“The main takeaway is that these newer replacement compounds may not be that much better than the older compounds they are intended to replace,” she said.

Schaider said consumers can take steps to avoid come of the compounds by not buying microwave popcorn bags and by avoiding stain resistant coatings on furniture and carpets, along with nonstick cookware.

“In other cases it can be more difficult to know which products have these highly fluorinated chemicals,” Schaider said.

The compounds can be present in certain food packaging and many consumer products aren’t labeled that they contain the chemicals.

“A lot of scientists are calling for measures that restrict the use of this whole class of chemicals rather than trying to tackle them one at a time,” Schaider said.

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