DECATUR, Ala. - Concerns over manufacturing chemicals used to make Teflon and Scotchgard may extend to the food grown and sold near chemical production facilities.
A nearly two-decades-old study conducted for 3M indicates that the same types of PFAS chemicals found in the drinking water in the West Morgan East Lawrence water supply may also exist in certain types of foods.
The chemicals found are the same ones that prompted the general manager of WMEL water authority to urge customers not to drink their tap water in 2016. In April, 3M settled a federal PFAS drinking contamination lawsuit filed by the North Alabama Water Authority for $35 million.
On Tuesday, Ohio-based attorney Robert Bilott sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking the agency what it knew about a 2001 3M food study that tested different food products in multiple cities, including Decatur and Mobile in Alabama.
Bilott's letter states that in 2001 chemicals were found at high levels in three food products in Alabama. The Environmental Protect Agency has a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS chemicals in drinking water.
- 2,350 ppt PFOA found in an apple in Decatur
- 587 ppt PFOS found in ground beef Mobile
- 543 ppt PFOA found in green beans Mobile
That means the apparent findings of at least one apple in Decatur nearly two decades ago was 33 times more than the current federal drinking water recommendations.
"My understanding is that's a single apple sample. It really highlights how produce, apples, milk, and really any food item that's near the vicinity of a production facility or a place that used and contaminated the surrounding environment with PFAS chemicals may be particularly impacted," explained Environmental Working Group Scientist David Andrews. "They sampled hundreds of food items across the United States and identified a dozen or more that had very high levels of PFAS contamination."
3M has a plant on the Tennessee River in Decatur. The company produced PFOA and PFOS chemicals for decades. The $115 billion company says it stopped production of PFOA and PFOS chemicals in the early 2000s.
3M released a statement about the food study to WHNT News 19 on Thursday.
“In 2001, 3M published the Multi-City Food Study and we shared this report with the EPA within seven days. This report is one of thousands of documents we have placed in the public domain related to the study of PFAS chemistries. We will continue to engage with members of our communities, elected officials and regulators to share information about these chemistries.”
The FDA says it has conducted testing for PFAS chemical in food. The agency claims its findings did not detect PFAS in the "vast majority" of the foods it tested. Officials add they don't have any indication that the substances are a concern to human health.
"This is really important because even today food is considered a major source of exposure," said Andrews. "And it may explain a lot of why nearly one every single person has these chemicals in their blood."