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February 3, 2005
The Decatur Daily (Alabama)
Group seeks Teflon test of Decatur tap water
By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer
A Washington environmental watchdog group asked Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Onis "Trey" Glenn III on Wednesday to test for Teflon chemicals in the Tennessee River from Decatur to Wilson Dam.
Washington-based Environmental Working Group has been studying the environmental and health impact of Teflon chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, for four years. It's the subject of an Environmental Protection Agency investigation and three class-action lawsuits in Decatur and Minnesota.
Officials with the environmental group said the letter to ADEM and state health departments in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New Jersey is part of their effort to speed up government efforts.
Teflon is found in numerous consumer products, including non-stick cookware, weatherproof clothing, carpet, cleaning products, and even French fry and pizza boxes. It's found in the blood of more than 95 percent of Americans and has been linked to health risks such as cancer, birth defects, and high cholesterol.
"Because PFOA has been found in tap water from other communities near industrial operations and because of its unique toxicity and persistence, we urge you conduct a survey to determine levels of PFOA in tap water — if you have not done so already — from these at-risk communities and others in the state that you identify as sites of industrial perfluorochemical use," Timothy Kropp, senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, said in a letter to ADEM.
Kropp said the 3M tests published in a scientific journal in 2002 detected PFOAs in the Tennessee River as far away as the Wheeler and Wilson dams.
"The level at which it begins to be a problem is being debated," Kropp said. "It doesn't break down in the environment or the body. It's the most persistent synthetic chemical known to man. It's not just a problem for Decatur but for the downstream communities," Kropp said. "It's something water systems need to be aware of. Nobody has ever gone that extra step to see what the levels of contamination are. We're asking them to test to see how widespread the problem is."
Every level of the chemical in animal tests to date shows effects on the immune and developmental functions, but the levels tested are not as low as levels detected by 3M in its own Decatur water studies in 2003, Kropp said.
PFOA was found in the manufacturing processes of both 3M and Daikin America in Decatur, the watchdog group said. Daikin officials could not be reached late Wednesday.
Todd Hogue, environmental and safety regulation manager for 3M, said the company hasn't manufactured PFOAs in several years and last used it in 2004 before reformulating its product for production of high temperature rubber. Past monitoring, mainly in the 1999-2000 time, failed to show up any PFOAs at the 25 parts per trillion detection limit. The company is working with ADEM on a plan to test Decatur's drinking water every two months this year.
The EPA last month announced that it asked an outside panel of scientific experts to review a draft of its risk study on the chemical. That group meets Feb. 22-23 and will issue a report in several months. Although EPA acknowledges "potential human health concerns" sufficient to generate more study, an EPA spokesman said the draft report doesn't reach any conclusions about the health risks.
Decatur Utilities does not test for Teflon in its water treatment plant, utility officials said. One Ohio city near a DuPont plant that produced the chemical is installing equipment to remove it from tap water.
DuPont, which produces the chemical, released a study last month of more than 1,000 employees from its West Virginia plant that concluded there was no correlation between liver function, blood count or cancer markers and exposure to PFOAs. It did note a roughly 10 percent increase in total cholesterol. Company officials concluded there was likely no impact on the general public.
DuPont has reduced emissions of PFOAs from U.S. operations by 98 percent in the past five years. The EPA previously released a statement that there was no reason for consumers to stop using any products because of PFOA.
ADEM spokesman Clint Niemeyer said 3M is good about staying in contact on the issue and its plan to conduct monitoring around its plant in Decatur.
"They have ongoing work as far as monitoring and building some analyses that they report to us and the Alabama Department of Public Health," he said. "The latest round ended in early December, and they should have it available to us around April 1. We will look at what's there and decide what to do next. It could be further sampling. At this point, from the latest analytical results, they have found no impact from this material to Decatur's drinking water."
However, Kropp said ADEM should be conducting the tests. If there are tests of drinking water, he said, they haven't been made public.
Hundreds of people lined up at a Decatur law firm last summer to apply for inclusion in a suit filed by three Decatur residents against 3M regarding its Teflon manufacturing business. The plaintiffs claim environmental tests performed last year revealed high levels of Teflon chemicals in their soil. All live near the 3M plant on State Docks Road in Northwest Decatur.