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March 20, 2005
Alameda Times-Star (California)
Du Pont, 3M to cut nonstick chemical
Companies will reduce possible carcinogen PFOA at end of 2006
By Douglas Fischer, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
DuPont and 3M, makers of Teflon and Scotchgard, will remove a key ingredient used to make nonstick and stain-resistant products that also contaminates our bodies and the global environment.
The move away from the chemical, known as PFOA, affects just a small fraction of DuPont's and 3M's business and won't take effect until the end of 2006. The compound, being studied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a potential carcinogen, will still be used in other consumer and industrial products.
"It's a small part of our sales," DuPont spokesman R. Clifton Webb said Tuesday. "We're taking this step not because of any concerns about health, but certainly because of the perception of PFOA in the environment."
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is found in almost all our blood in minute concentrations, with a median exposure of near 5 ppb in the United States. A martini mixed at that concentration would have 5 drops of vermouth in a rail tank car of gin.
The compound is crucial in the manufacture of a class of extremely durable and expensive industrial plastics — electrical wires and cables, power- and chemical-plant pipe liners, even firefighting foam.
It's also necessary for such well-known brands as Teflon, Silverstone and Stainmaster. The switch applies only to plastics that get sprayed and then baked onto a product, such as Teflon cookware.
Other plastics, such as those used to make fabrics stain resistant and to coat wires and line pipes, would be unaffected.
"It's a step forward, but it's an incomplete step," said Tim Kropp, a toxicologist with Environmental Working Group, which is tracking PFOA contamination.
"They're starting to have to take this seriously ... because the EPA and the science shows it's a serious problem. It's unacceptable to have a chemical with the type of health effects (PFOA) does in more than 95 percent of people's blood."
Laboratory studies link PFOA exposure to mammary, testicular and pancreatic cancer, Kropp said, and scientists have found no dose in lab animals that doesn't suppress the immune system. DuPont notes that a study of 1,024 PFOA workers found almost no ill effects.
DuPont and 3M both say virtually all PFOA is destroyed during manufacture. Scientists do not understand how it contaminates the environment, though one hypothesis suggests that as such products break down, the chemicals revert back to PFOA.
"It signals a gradual sea-change," said Kropp said of industry's move. "But it really doesn't answer the larger global questions of how it got into everybody's blood."
Contact Douglas Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.