Speed Reads


John Oliver explains why Teflon and other PFAS are bad, everywhere, and what to do about it

There are a wide variety of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) made by some big-name companies, "but the main thing they have in common is that they make surfaces that don't get stuff stuck to them, which is something a lot of us care about," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. That makes them useful in Teflon pans and waterproof clothing, but there are two big problems.

"First, these chemicals have been linked to a massive array of health issues — high exposure to [two] major PFAS alone have been linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer, and decreased response to vaccines," Oliver said. "And second, PFAS are what's known as forever chemicals," with estimated lifespans "in the thousands of years. And that combination of toxicity and longevity is a real problem."

"So tonight, we thought we'd take a look at just how bad these substances are, how long some of their major manufacturers know about it, and how hard this will all be to fix," Oliver said. Does that sound super fun? Probably not, he conceded, joking that his show was almost called "That Thing You Like Is Bad." But it is interesting and infuriating and you can check if there are significant PFAS sites near you — after Oliver explains why that would probably be bad. And if you stay through to the end, Danny DeVito makes an appearance to savage DuPont in a mock ad. There is NSFW language sprinkled throughout.