A toxic chemical widely used in the manufacture of pesticides, non-stick cookware, carpet sprays and other commercial products since the 1950s, has been found in the blood of 100 percent of birds, dolphins and fish tested in a recent study.
The study, published late September 2016 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, was conducted to measure the extent of contamination in wildlife from perfluorophosphinic acids, one type of compound from a group of industrial chemicals that have largely been restricted, but are suspected to still be in use in various commercial products, including carpet-cleaning formulas.
Amila O. De Silva, a researcher working for the Canadian government and lead author of the study, conducted another small-scale study between 2007 and 2008 that found perfluorophosphinic acids in 83 percent of household dust samples collected from Vancouver residences.
The results of that study prompted De Silva to conduct wider research on the prevalence of these substances in the environment.
“‘We wanted to do a survey of these relatively under-studied compounds in aquatic organisms,' De Silva said of her new study, which was funded by the Canadian government. She and her colleagues analyzed blood samples from one type of fish, one type of bird and one type of mammal across North America: northern pike found near the Island of Montreal; cormorants from the Great Lakes; and bottlenose dolphins from both Sarasota Bay, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina.
“‘We aimed for diversity: air-breathing versus water-breathing, differences in habitat, different taxonomic groups,' De Silva said.”
Although the concentrations were low, De Silva and her team found perfluorophosphinic acids in all of the blood samples taken from the three species.
Toxic perfluorophosphinic acids persist in nature
Perfluorophosphinic acids aren't broken down in the environment by sunlight, water or microbial action, so they persist for many years, and are likely to be inhaled or ingested by humans and animals. De Silva said that the natural cleanup mechanisms of the environment “don't seem to apply” to these compounds.
One scientist, Zhanyun Wang, who has researched these chemicals extensively but was not involved in this particular study, said that information regarding the current use of these chemicals is “sketchy at best.”
“There is no new information to show if they are increasingly or decreasingly used. More information from the manufacturers is needed.”
How manufacturers hide the use of toxic chemicals in their products
The lack of information on the use of these toxic substances is largely due to the fact that manufacturers can hide the components of their products by means of a legal loophole that allows them to claim that their formulas are “confidential business information,” or CBI.
This means that they do not have to disclose information to the FDA or anyone else revealing whatever poisonous substances their products may contain.
In 2005, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that around 95 percent of new chemical notifications contain information protected as trade secrets. The EPA has confirmed that this figure is still “generally accurate.”
Through use of the CBI loophole, manufacturers have been able to conceal the names and identities of more than 17,500 chemicals currently registered with the EPA.
Companies like DuPont, which replaced its now outlawed Teflon chemical perfluorooctanoic acid with other perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, are able to hide the fact that the new replacements are likely as dangerous as the old chemical was.
The United States Congress is currently seeking an overhaul of laws regulating the use of toxic chemicals, but none of the bills being considered would require companies to provide specific safety data for new chemicals submitted for approval.
Meanwhile, thousands of chemicals with unknown toxicity are ending up in the air, soil and water – and subsequently in humans and animals – and no one seems to be doing anything serious or significant to change that.