3 Chemicals That Caused Legal Outrage and Strict Bans


Chemistry had not become a proper science until the 18th century. As man started discovering the various chemical elements of the periodic table, he secured the knowledge and means to invent more.

Today, modern chemistry has come so far that at least 350,000 chemical compounds are known. Out of these, thousands are entirely synthetic. In other words, they cannot be found naturally and are a result of manmade/artificial synthesis.

Despite such massive leaps in chemical discovery, scientists believe that only 1% of chemicals have been discovered. While both natural and manmade chemicals have their distinct use and benefits, some of them are harmful.

This means their ramifications on health and the environment far exceed their use and commercial importance. As a result, people (sometimes municipalities) have had to sue the chemical/product manufacturers. Some have even been banned permanently as the only solution to stop their ill effects.

In this article, we will discuss three chemicals that caused legal outrage and serious bans.

Forever Chemicals

This is an interesting name given to a complex group of over 12,000 chemical compounds. The proper name for these chemicals is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. These are completely manmade chemicals having strong carbon-fluoride bonds.

Their chemistry was discovered in the 1930s, and they became a staple in industrial use in the 1940s. The key property of these chemicals is that they repel water, grease, and oil. As a result, PFAS were used in manufacturing non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets, raincoats, etc.

Besides consumer products, these chemicals became an important part of the firefighting industry. They were the key ingredients in developing Aqueous Film Forming Foam or AFFF. This firefighting foam is used to put out fires of a Class B nature (caused by liquid fuels).

The reason why they are called the ‘forever chemicals’ is because research has found that they do not break down in the environment or the human body. The carbon-fluoride bond is almost unbreakable and its toxic effects linger indefinitely. 

A case in point is how firefighters have suffered from major (terminal) health conditions like cancer due to AFFF. For decades, they were unaware of the foam’s toxicity. 

However, when things came to light, many started filing firefighting foam lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers like 3M and DuPont. Besides firefighters, even municipalities sued PFAS manufacturers for groundwater contamination. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has at least 180 Superfund sites that require cleanup due to PFAS contamination. This problem is serious as the first round of AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts reached $10.3 billion (which 3M has agreed to pay for 13 years).

As of now, the second round (on personal injury lawsuits) is awaiting trial and settlements. According to TruLaw, this process is currently under extension for discovery disputes. After jury verdicts, it is expected that PFAS manufacturers would lose billions more in payouts.

What’s even more alarming is that scientists have discovered that PFAS are practically found everywhere – tap water, food packaging, dental floss, and even rainwater. They have become impossible to escape, and any further production would only make the world inhabitable.

As a result, these chemicals’ production has been completely and permanently banned. 3M has promised to stop PFAS production by the end of 2025.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

These chemicals are also largely synthetic, consisting of strong carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine bonds. Their manufacturing process started back in 1929. Ever since then, PCBs had a wide variety of commercial applications, including hydraulic equipment, plasticizers, dyes and pigments, and rubber products.

The primary manufacturer of these chemicals was the famous Monsanto (now acquired by Bayer). Despite being highly popularized by Monsanto since 1935, PCBs’ health repercussions could not remain hidden for long.

It was found that even these chemicals could not easily degrade in the environment. Though (unlike PFAS) they did not stay indefinitely, this depended on the respective PCB’s chemical makeup. Some of the common health effects of regular exposure to PCBs include skin rashes, acne, cancer, reproductive issues, and liver damage.

Keeping such concerns in mind, these chemicals were banned from production in 1979. However, only recently (in 2023), matters appeared before the Federal court. Schools began suing PCB manufacturers due to contamination and health issues (due to their use in electrical equipment, construction materials, etc.).

Investigation is ongoing to understand the extent of PCB contamination. Despite being banned decades ago, PCBs are present in the environment (and can continue to harm humans and wildlife).


The third chemical on the list occurs naturally, having a bond of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Though formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic chemical, it can be mass-produced for industrial use.

Some of its common commercial applications over the years have been as a food preservative, in the production of plywood, resins, and cosmetics and antiseptics. One must be careful to not fall for the chemical’s natural occurrence. It is highly toxic and has been banned from at least one commonly used product – hair straightener.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), most people have been exposed to small amounts of this chemical through press fabrics, glues, paints, smog, etc. Such small amounts do not cause any major health issues. 

However, formaldehyde in hair straighteners/relaxers is so toxic that cases of uterine cancer have surfaced. Since these products are mostly popular among Black women (with curly, coiled natural hair), they are found to be highly vulnerable to developing the said cancer.

There is an active lawsuit against manufacturers like L’Oreal for injuries and deceptive marketing tactics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently banned all hair straightening products with formaldehyde in them.

As we have seen, chemical production may promise better industrial/commercial goods. However, with each discovery, the threat to the environment, wildlife, and humans is increasing.

As of now, it seems like a new technique has been discovered to destroy PFAS. However, only time will reveal if synthetic chemicals (already produced) can be successfully removed. One can only hope that the process of inventing and producing them will stop. 

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