PFOA 2005:
April 28, 2005. Environmental, labor group ideas rejected.
Protesters picket DuPont shareholders meeting.
By Richard Sine. The News Journal (Delaware).

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April 28, 2005

The News Journal (Delaware)

Environmental, labor group ideas rejected
Protesters picket DuPont shareholders meeting

By RICHARD SINE / The News Journal

DuPont shareholders filing out of Wednesday's annual meeting in Wilmington's DuPont theater confronted a raucous scene:

A 10-foot-tall inflatable rat carrying the sign "C-8 Killed Me!" A woman in a skeleton mask with a sign reading "DuPont Move Your Dioxin Pile." And a man shouting "Don't eat the fish!" - a reference to his belief DuPont was poisoning the Delaware River.

The messages were mostly lost on shareholders like Dave Frantz, a retired DuPont engineer from Hockessin who had affixed a company button on his blue suit. "I agree with management," Frantz said, adding, "DuPont has the scientific expertise to handle environmental issues."

Proposals by environmental, labor and faith-based groups were rejected Wednesday, as shareholders accepted chief executive Charles O. Holliday Jr.'s assurance that the company was acting responsibly as it sought growth.

All board nominees were re-elected by greater than 95 percent margins, according to preliminary vote results. Six shareholder-sponsored resolutions that management opposed were defeated by margins topping 90 percent.

Such margins are not unusual, as shareholders typically side with management at annual meetings. But the meetings are still a key forum for corporate critics. Protests over environmental and human-rights issues marked the Coca-Cola Co.'s annual meeting in Wilmington last week.

Capturing the most attention at DuPont's meeting Wednesday was a first-time proposal requiring more disclosure of the costs related to the controversial chemical known as PFOA, or C-8.

"We believe the health and environmental concerns about PFOA are raising huge financial concerns for our company," proposal backer Sanford Lewis said at the meeting. "In my opinion, investors need to know more."

Lewis, spokesman for a labor-led group called DuPont Shareholders for Fair Value, said the company should disclose what actions it is taking to monitor health or environmental effects at the plants where PFOA is used.

In a news conference outside the meeting, Jim Rowe, an employee at the Deepwater, N.J., plant, said DuPont was testing for PFOA levels in workers' blood. The testing should be done by an independent organization, he said.

PFOA, a processing agent used in production of Teflon and other products, has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals and to be widely present in humans' blood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying its effects on humans.

Holliday said the chemical has no effect on human health. He said DuPont had reduced PFOA emissions from plants by 98 percent since 2000.

So far, most information about the company's use of PFOA has been revealed in lawsuits, Lewis said. Shareholders deserve to know how DuPont is handling potential liabilities before litigation arises, he said.

Liabilities over PFOA are already piling up. Earlier this year, DuPont agreed to pay nearly $108 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by Ohio and West Virginia residents who said their drinking water was contaminated with PFOA. And last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued DuPont, alleging the company withheld information about the chemical. Fines could exceed $300 million.

The resolution garnered slightly less than 9 percent of the votes cast Wednesday. Lewis called the figure "a very high vote for a first-time resolution."

In other voting Wednesday, shareholders rejected proposals to tie executive compensation and stock options to company performance.

The company said it already does this. But a proposal backer noted that Holliday has received millions of dollars in options even though the stock has declined about 13 percent in the past 5 years.

Labor leaders took advantage of the meeting to protest reductions in pension benefits.

"DuPont hasn't increased pensions in 15 years, but health care payments have increased and that's why pension checks have been reduced," said Jim Briggs, an official with United Steelworkers.

Anne Cole, benefits manager for DuPont, said pensions were last increased in 1996. Pension levels are comparable with other large companies, Cole said.

Company retirees were first asked to pay health insurance premiums in 1994, Cole said. While saying premiums had increased over the years, she declined to quantify the increase, saying benefits changes made a true comparison impossible.

After introducing some of DuPont's newest products to shareholders Wednesday, Holliday spent most of his brief presentation defending DuPont's labor and environmental policies.

Holliday "took a lot of abuse" during the shareholders' meeting, said shareholder Anne Kratzer of Hockessin, widow of a DuPont engineer. She rated his performance as "perfect."

Shareholder Bill Callahan, a retired DuPont engineer from Radnor, Pa., voted for the review of executive pay and options. "Like many people in America, I'm impatient with the affluence of the corporate executive," he said.

This article includes information from the Associated Press. Contact Richard Sine at 324-2878 or

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