Can Nonstick Make You Sick?

For Bucky Bailey's parents, the 22-year-old's wedding day in August of this year was one they feared might never come, given how their son started life. Bucky was born in January of 1981 with only one nostril and a deformed right eye.

"The doctors told us not to get attached to him because he probably wouldn't make it through the night," Sue Bailey, Bucky's mother, told "20/20." "They didn't know what to say. … I mean, they had never seen a baby like this before. … I cried so many tears I couldn't cry another tear."

Today, two decades later, scarred from more than 30 surgeries, Bucky is coming forward and telling "20/20" he wants to know who or what is responsible for a life that has not been easy.

"I've never, ever felt normal. You can't feel normal when you walk outside and every single person looks at you. And it's not that look of 'he's famous' or 'he's rich,' " Bucky said. "It's that look of 'he's different.' You can see it in their eyes."

Chemicals Widely Detected in Blood

The Bailey family and others lay the blame at the place where Sue worked when she became pregnant with Bucky — the huge DuPont plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., where workers mix the chemicals for Teflon, the famed nonstick substance used on pots and pans.

Teflon, a product advertised as making life easy, is also used in a different form to keep stains off carpets and clothing. DuPont calls these products the housewives' best friend.

Teflon and the chemicals used in its production have grown into a $2 billion-a-year industry. This includes ammonium perfluorooctanoate, known as C-8, which has been linked to cancer, organ damage and other health effects in tests on laboratory animals.

The same chemical, C-8, was found not only in the blood of Sue Bailey when she became pregnant but, it turns out, is in the blood of virtually every American, in much smaller but still detectable levels. This discovery make this a story that reaches far beyond what happened in one small town in West Virginia.

"In retrospect, this may seem like one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mistakes the chemical industry has ever made," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, an activist organization.

"And how could they not be in our blood?" Houlihan said. "They're in such a huge range of consumer products. We're talking about Teflon, Stainmaster, Gore-tex, Silverstone. So if you buy clothing that's coated with Teflon or something else that protects it from dirt and stains, those chemicals can absorb directly through the skin."

Houlihan and her colleague Kris Thayer, senior scientist at EWG, have been poring over 20 years of confidential DuPont papers and other industry documents on Teflon.

Highest C-8 Levels Found in Children

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some of the highest C-8 levels were found in some of the children tested. Even DuPont says that it cannot rule out that Teflon-connected products, such as Stainmaster carpet treatment, give off the chemical, although at blood levels the company says are far too small to be a problem.

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