WHEN IT COMES TO TEFLON, the Environmental Protection Agency is living up to its name. By calling this week for the reduction and eventual elimination of a potentially dangerous chemical used to make Teflon, the agency has shown it is willing to protect global wildlife and human health.
Unlike Teflon presidents or Teflon sports figures, Teflon itself has sticky health issues that refuse to slide away. A troubling compound used to make the slick stuff, called PFOA, is found in 95% of Americans and has been detected around the world, even finding its way into polar bears in Greenland, Alaska and Canada.
It's not clear how this chemical finds its way into the environment; it's removed from Teflon and other products during the manufacturing process. But PFOA is practically ubiquitous, used to make waterproof clothing, phone cables, building materials and more. In animal tests, it has been found to cause birth defects and has been linked to cancer and immune suppression, among other health problems. It stays in the human body for years and is passed on to a fetus during pregnancy.
Last year, the EPA went aggressively after DuPont Co., saying the chemical powerhouse that pioneered the use of PFOA had been hiding the substance's health risks for close to 25 years and had failed to report that PFOA had seeped into residential water supplies in Ohio and West Virginia. DuPont agreed last month to pay the largest administrative fine in the EPA's history: $16.5 million.