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The Decatur Daily (Alabama)

March 17, 2005

DU finds no Teflon-related contamination in water, but lawsuit test results disagree

By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer
mburkey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

Water tests completed recently found no evidence of Teflon-related chemicals in Decatur's drinking water as suggested this year by a Washington-based environmental watchdog group.

DU General Manager Kem Carr told the water board on Thursday that water samples collected at five locations Feb. 10 all found "no detectable traces" of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

"We don't know of any health concern whatsoever now," he said.

DU reported the results to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which now regards it as "a non-issue," he added. DU plans no further action unless ADEM or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency change regulations, he said.

Utility officials decided to do their own testing after the Environmental Working Group in Washington sent letters in early February to state health departments in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, and New Jersey urging them to test tap water in "at-risk communities" where related chemicals had been manufactured, used or disposed of. ADEM did not initiate any action, although officials say they continue to follow the results of industry testing.

Timothy Kropp, senior scientist for Environmental Working Group who authored the letters, said he wasn't surprised by the results. But he noted that DU's water intake is upriver from the Decatur plants where PFOAs were made or used. He said the group would continue to urge ADEM to test the water in cities with intakes down river.

Previous studies found 500 to 600 parts per trillion in the river up to 40 miles downriver, Kropp said. That PFOA users are reducing their emissions and PFOA content of their final products shows they take the health threat seriously also, he said.

PFOA is part of a family of manmade chemicals used to make nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, and waterproof clothing. Few health studies exist on effects in humans. Animal studies have suggested links to high cholesterol, cancer, birth defects and liver damage.

PFOAs were made by 3M in Decatur until a few years ago, and it is still used by Daiken America. The EPA is investigating and lawyers filed three class-action lawsuits in Decatur and Minnesota.

There is, however, no national standard for a safe limit. Minnesota, Ohio and West Virginia use a limit of 7 parts per billion for PFOA.
Carr noted that both local industry and a group of attorneys participating in Decatur's class-action lawsuit asked to be present and collect their own samples during DU's testing. Samples were collected at DU's raw water intake on the Tennessee River, 1002 Central Parkway S.W., 820 Tammy St. S.W., 500 Memorial Drive N.W., and 2400 13th St. S.W.

3M also sponsored lab tests by Exygen that detected no PFOA contamination at 25-parts-per-trillion limit. However, the lawyers' consultant, AXYS Lab of British Columbia, Canada, tested to a much lower limit and found samples containing 2 to 3 parts per trillion.

Carr said those numbers are about 3,000 times less than the health standard set by Minnesota. PFOA lawsuit attorney David Byrne, with Beasley Allen PC of Montgomery, said he believes, however, the results will be useful in the court case. He noted that the legal team asked AXYS to test for 13 different fluorochemicals, nearly all of which turned up in the water at the lower detection limits.

"We wanted the citizens of Decatur to have the best information available on matters involving their health," he said. "These chemicals don't break down in the environment. They accumulate in the environment and people. So we know every time residents were drinking water they were adding potentially to their body's burden of fluorocheimcials and increasing the time it takes their body to eliminate them. What's surprising about these water samples to us is the intake point for the city water supply is upstream from the historical discharges 3M made into the river."

Local industry officials, however, note that the amounts detected are still thousands of times less than the health limits set by other states.

"We have a lot of experience with PFOAs," 3M Site Manager Jim Fincher said. "We've found no adverse health effects attributable to PFOA at significantly higher levels."