February 3, 2010
Alternative Chemicals Ease Safety Concerns About Nonstick, Repellent Coatings
Amid concern about the potential toxic effects of the fluorochemicals used in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and other consumer products, manufacturers are using new versions of these chemicals that may be safer. That's the topic of the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine.
C&EN Senior Editor Stephen K. Ritter cites indications that long-chain compounds like perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) can cause developmental problems, liver toxicity, and cancer in animals. Uncertainty exists over their health effects in people. Nevertheless, chemical companies are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out PFOS and are in the process of phasing out PFOA. The companies are replacing these chemicals with shorter chain fluorochemicals that perform just as well but appear to be safer.
Although these new ingredients are considered sound replacements, they may only be a temporary fix, pending development of a new generation of less toxic substitutes. After being surprised by the unexpected environmental persistence of PFOA and PFOS, EPA is taking extra caution with the replacements to avoid a similar problem in the future.
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