Joe Kiger, left, and Dr. Paul Brooks near Parkersburg, W. Va. They were involved in a lawsuit against DuPont over a  spill of a form of Poly- and perfluoroalkyl chemicals more than a decade ago. Parkersburg residents’ health is still being monitored. Credit Ty Wright for The New York Times

Joe Kiger, left, and Dr. Paul Brooks near Parkersburg, W. Va. They were involved in a lawsuit against DuPont over a spill of a form of Poly- and perfluoroalkyl chemicals more than a decade ago. Parkersburg residents’ health is still being monitored. Credit Ty Wright for The New York Times


May 1, 2015  |  The New York Times | By ERIC LIPTON and RACHEL ABRAMS

A top federal health official and hundreds of environmental scientists on Friday voiced new health concerns about a common class of chemicals used in products as varied as pizza boxes and carpet treatments.

The concerted public campaign renews a years-old debate about a class of chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. After studies showed that some PFASs lingered in people’s bodies for years, and appeared to increase the risks of cancer and other health problems, the chemical manufacturer DuPont banned the use of one type of PFAS in its popular Teflon products, and other companies followed suit.

At issue now are replacement chemicals developed by those manufacturers and used in thousands of products, including electronics, footwear, sleeping bags, tents, protective gear for firefighters and even the foams used to extinguish fires.

The companies assert that the alternatives are safe and vehemently contest the scientists’ contentions, pointing to extensive studies conducted in the last decade or so.

PFASs have strong water-resistant properties; pizza boxes, for example, stay sturdy even when grease seeps into the cardboard.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

But two separate salvos fired on Friday question whether enough research has been done to justify the chemical industry’s confidence in the safety of this crop of PFASs.

“Research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs,” Linda S. Birnbaum, the head of the national toxicology program for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a commentary piece published Friday in Environmental Health Perspectives. “The question is, should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment?”

The journal, published by the National Institutes of Health, devoted several pages to the issue, with articles from researchers and from the industry trade group.

A statement signed by 200 international scientists — environmental health experts, toxicologists, epidemiologists and others — urged countries around the world to restrict the use of PFASs.

“We call on the international community to cooperate in limiting the production and use of PFASs,” the statement said…

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