Citing worker and consumer safety concerns, the nation’s largest industrial union, United Steelworkers (USW), announced that it has launched an inquiry into the use of a Teflon-related chemical by hundreds of food packaging and other paper manufacturers across the country.

Boyd Young, president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) before last week’s merger of PACE with the United Steelworkers of America, sent a letter to the CEOs of more than 200 major paper companies to alert them about possible health risks associated with using Zonyl, a chemical produced by DuPont.

Zonyl is a fluorinated telomer that breaks down into C8, a suspected carcinogen currently being investigated by the EPA and the subject of a major lawsuit settlement this year in West Virginia and Ohio.

While the extent of Zonyl’s use in the paper industry remains unknown, the union, now known as the USW, with 850,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, is conducting a preliminary survey among 1,200 local union officials to collect initial information on the prevalence of Zonyl’s use, and how workers are exposed to it. It is believed that Zonyl is used widely in the paper industry, including the manufacture of packaging for food products.

“It is our duty to protect the health and safety of the workers our union represents,” said Young.

Dr. Timothy Kropp, senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, said, “While nearly every American has in their blood Teflon chemicals used in food packaging and other paper products, workers may have higher levels. Studies have found that workers exposed to the Teflon chemical known as C8 are at risk for increased stroke, leukemia and prostate cancer.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a federal suit alleging DuPont hid from workers and the public information showing C8 causes “substantial risk of injury to human health.” DuPont also recently settled a $108 million class action lawsuit for polluting the drinking water of West Virginia and Ohio residents with C8, pollution the company failed to report since 1984.

Initial responses to the survey indicate Zonyl is often mixed with other chemicals before being applied to pulp or paper products, such as food packaging. Workers who interact with the mixture are potentially exposed through significant airborne and skin contact.