PFOA 2005
May 26, 2005. DuPont monitors chemical pollution.
By Nomee Landis. Fayetteville Observer


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May 26, 2005

Fayetteville Observer [Arkansas]

DuPont monitors chemical pollution

By Nomee Landis

A toxic chemical that DuPont began producing at its Fayetteville Works plant in 2002 has been found in groundwater below the facility.

DuPont officials say the chemical did not come from the new $23 million building where it is produced but from a leaking cement cistern beneath another building.

The chemical, ammonium perfluorooctanoate or APFO, is used to produce Teflon and similar products. It also was detected at trace levels in DuPont wastewater discharged into the Cape Fear River near the William O. Huske Lock and Dam, said Larry Stanley, a hydrogeologist for the N.C. Division of Waste Management.

Because North Carolina does not regulate APFO, Stanley said, DuPont notified the state of the contamination voluntarily.

Stanley said the state is monitoring the situation, but it is allowing the company to oversee further testing for APFO. More sampling of groundwater and surface water is planned around the facility this summer, Stanley said.

APFO is commonly known by its trademarked name, C8. It is the same chemical that contaminated public water supplies around a DuPont plant in West Virginia and led to a class-action lawsuit there involving more than 50,000 people.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the chemical because it persists so long in the environment - and in people. Studies have shown that APFO is in the blood of nearly every American.

DuPont studies revealed during court proceedings showed some adverse health effects with significant exposure to the chemical.

DuPont began manufacturing APFO in Fayetteville in 2002 after its creator, the chemical company 3M, stopped producing it for environmental reasons. DuPont's Fayetteville Works plant is the only facility in the United States that makes the chemical.

When the APFO plant opened, DuPont officials said neither the chemical nor the wastewater left after its production would be discharged into the environment. The waste would be hauled out of state for disposal.

EPA records show the company has trucked APFO waste products to Arkansas and New Jersey.

Tracing the path

Michael Johnson is the environmental manager at DuPont's Fayetteville plant. He said the path the contaminants took in the groundwater pointed to another processing plant at the facility.

"From what we're seeing down there in that groundwater, we have the utmost confidence that that didn't come from our APFO facility," Hudson said.

DuPont first found the chemical in groundwater in January 2003, three months after the APFO manufacturing plant opened. Barry Hudson, the plant manager, said they began looking for APFO as part of an agreement with EPA in response to mounting concerns about the potential health effects of the chemical.

At that time, the company was embroiled in a lawsuit brought by thousands of people living near the company's Parkersburg, W.Va., plant.

DuPont workers in Fayetteville sampled water in four monitoring wells. APFO was found in trace amounts in three of the wells and at a higher level in the fourth, according to a report DuPont provided to state environmental staff.

More tests were done in March 2003 to verify the results. The highest concentration was detected in February 2004, when sampling revealed 1.5 parts APFO per billion parts water.

Stanley said the findings surprised him. DuPont notified his division in June 2003 that APFO was found in the groundwater at the Fayetteville plant.

Johnson said the locations of the two tests pointed them to the source: an underground concrete waste storage vault, or sump, underneath the plant where Nafion is produced.

"If you look at the groundwater flow where the sump was located, the high point lines up absolutely perfect with the groundwater flow," Johnson said. "When you look at the wells we've sampled, everything points to that sump."

The sump was closed in 2000 after plant workers found groundwater leaking through a crack in the concrete floor. In addition to APFO, the plant has found trace levels of methane chloride and acetone in the groundwater as a result of the leak.

Stanley said the APFO could be a breakdown chemical, left after other chemicals biodegraded. That is something the EPA is considering, as well.

Threshold of worry

For now, Stanley said, the amount of APFO in the groundwater beneath the Fayetteville plant remains low enough that it is not cause for concern.

According to Stanley, the state would not be concerned about the APFO level until it reaches 150 parts per billion. The highest amount discovered at the Fayetteville Works facility was 1.5 parts per billion.

The 150 parts per billion standard was the result of talks between DuPont and state officials in West Virginia. But lawyers in the West Virginia lawsuit argued the number was too high.

In Minnesota, health officials have set a limit of 7 parts per billion in drinking water. 3M operated an APFO plant in Cottage Grove, Minn., for more than 50 years until it closed in 2002.

Jim Kelly, a health assessor for the Minnesota Department of Health, is working on the state's investigation of the APFO releases in the Cottage Grove area and helped establish an APFO standard for the state. He said the 7 parts per billion threshold was based on toxicology analyses that showed damage to a monkey's liver after it was exposed to APFO through drinking water.

Concentrations of APFO in the thousands of parts per billion have been detected for the past five years in more than 60 private drinking wells and several public water systems in the Cottage Grove area. Kelly said the state is "paying a lot of attention" to the issue.

Research on how the chemical travels and affects humans is ongoing. But one thing is clear, Kelly said: Once released it is difficult to control.

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