Mark Ruffalo’s Dark Waters Calls Out PFOA: But What Is It?

PHoto: Courtesy of Focus Features.
Dark Waters has already situated itself as one of the scariest movies of 2019. Not because there are ghosts or demons or paranormal activity involved. No — the only "monster" in the movie is something we can't see or touch, though we could be coming into contact with it every day: PFOA.
The film, based on the 2016 New York Times feature by Nathanial Rich, follows Mark Ruffalo as he plays Rob Billott, the lawyer behind the decades-long pollution case involving DuPont, an American chemical company. As the movie describes, DuPont knowingly has been dumping a damaging compound known as PFOA, short for perfluorooctanoic acid, into our environment since 1951.
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While the movie brings to light all of the harm done by DuPont (and other companies like it that produce PFOA) we've only just scratched the surface of the acid's long-term effects on our bodies and our ecosystem.
Ok, so what exactly is PFOA?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, PFOA — also known as C8 by DuPont — is a man-made chemical used in the production of stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, and nonstick cookware.
While PFOA has been phased out by its primary manufacturer, 3M, it doesn't break down naturally. That means in the U.S., the chemical is still around, in the soil, in groundwater, and in the air. It can also enter the U.S. via imported goods from countries that also use PFOA, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Where can PFOA be found?
Well... it's kind of everywhere — and it's extremely likely that it's already in your blood, your family's blood, and will be in your children's blood.
The most common form of exposure to PFOA is through contaminated drinking water, but you can also be exposed by using products that contain PFOA.
"Where scientists have tested for the presence of PFOA in the world, they have found it," the New York Times article that inspired Dark Waters says. "PFOA is in the blood or vital organs of Atlantic salmon, swordfish, striped mullet, gray seals, common cormorants, Alaskan polar bears, brown pelicans, sea turtles, sea eagles, Midwestern bald eagles, California sea lions and Laysan albatrosses on Sand Island, a wildlife refuge on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between North America and Asia."
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How can PFOA affect your health?
Exposure to PFOA has been linked to serious issues, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia, and ulcerative colitis, found recent studies conducted by the EPA and research carried out as part of the C8 Health Project.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine also says that exposure to PFOA can have an affect on your liver, immune system, and thyroid as well as include heightened cholesterol, low infant birth weights, and harmful effects to developing fetuses.
While PFOA is no longer manufactured in the United States, China still produces thousands of pounds of the stuff every day, making the U.S. still susceptible to PFOA from imported items. But, there's a bright side — in May 2019, as many as 180 countries agreed to ban the production and use of PFOA.
So... what can I do?
There's still a ton we don't know about PFOA and what exactly its effects are on us. No one really knows for certain how much PFOA is safe to consume, the New York Times article states. And there isn't a ton of advice on how to protect yourself from its effects.
For now, consider using this map published by the Environmental Working Group to determine if your water is could be impacted by PFOA contamination. If so, it may be a good idea to stick to bottled water.
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Also smart: Avoid using non-stick cookware made from perfluorinated compounds. (Ceramic coated non-stick pans or well-seasoned cast iron cookware are a safer option.)
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