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
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
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
At that time, the company was embroiled in a lawsuit brought
by thousands of people living near the company's Parkersburg,
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
Stanley said the APFO could be a breakdown chemical, left after
other chemicals biodegraded. That is something the EPA is considering,
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
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.