July 7, 2005
The Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
Review board members differ on potential
risks of Teflon chemical
DOVER, Del. - Members of a federal scientific review board agreed
Wednesday to revise their draft report on the potential risks
of a chemical used by DuPont Co. to make Teflon in order to better
reflect opposing viewpoints among themselves.
In a draft report released late last month, the majority of members
on a scientific advisory board that reviewed the Environmental
Protection Agency's draft risk assessment for PFOA concluded that
the chemical is "likely" to be carcinogenic to humans.
That finding went beyond the EPA's own determination that there
is only "suggestive evidence" from animal studies that
perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts are potential human carcinogens.
During a public teleconference Wednesday to discuss the report,
some panel members expressed concern that the change in wording,
which they revealed was the subject of extensive debate at a February
meeting, may lead people to make unwarranted assumptions about
Panel members agreed to revise the report to incorporate more
text on the range of their opinions, but they gave no indication
that any significant changes would be made in their conclusions.
"I actually think there's been a remarkable amount of consensus
on this panel, and I would be careful about using phraseology
that suggests there was not," said David Ozonoff, a professor
of environmental health at Boston University.
But Melvin Andersen of the Centers for Health Research in Research
Triangle Park, N.C., a private, nonprofit organization founded
by chemical industry leaders in the 1970s, said he was "uncomfortable"
with the draft report, and that it does not address the breadth
of opinions on PFOA's cancer-causing potential.
"I'm more comfortable with the 'suggestive evidence' than
a 'likely' carcinogen," he said.
James Kehrer, head of the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology
at the University of Texas in Austin said he, too, favors the
"PFOA is clearly a funny chemical," he said. "Rodents
don't seem to be very good model for human effects."
But other panel members noted that the use of the term "likely"
is based not on any quantitative risk assessments of PFOA, which
the report recommends be undertaken, but on the EPA's guidelines
for determining the carcinogenic potential of chemicals.
Those guidelines include five possible descriptors for a chemical's
cancer-causing potential in humans, with "likely" being
the middle ground between "suggestive evidence" and
In its report, the science advisory board said "likely"
is typically used as a descriptor when an agent has "tested
positive in more than one species, sex, strain, site or exposure
route, with or without evidence of carcinogenicity in humans."
"The panel was only talking about the EPA descriptor, and
not whether it's likely or not to cause cancer," said Michael
Kamrin, professor emeritus of environmental toxicology at Michigan
State University, noting the absence of any quantitative studies.
Norman Drinkwater, an oncology professor at the University of
Wisconsin, said the evidence from animal studies exceeded the
criteria for "suggestive evidence."
"The current and proposed EPA guidelines for the cancer
descriptions didn't really provide us with an ideal description,
given the state of the data for PFOA," he said.
Panel members agreed to submit their proposed changes for the
draft report to the EPA by July 20, and expect to have a revised
draft ready for their review by early August. The report would
then be forwarded to the full science advisory board for its approval
before being submitted to the EPA, which can accept or reject
Meanwhile, DuPont officials reiterated Wednesday that initial
findings from a study of more than 1,000 workers at DuPont's Washington
Works facility near Parkersburg, W.Va., have found no evidence
to suggest that PFOA exposure can cause cancer.
"This worker population appears to be healthy, from an overall
health standpoint," DuPont toxicologist Gerald Kennedy told
the EPA advisory board members.
In February, the Delaware-based chemical giant agreed to pay
$107 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by West Virginia
and Ohio residents who claimed that PFOA from the Washington Works
plant contaminated their water supplies. The company, which agreed
to pay as much as $343 million to resolve the case, denied any
DuPont also has set aside $15 million to settle EPA complaints
that the company failed to report information over two decades
about the potential environmental and human health risks of PFOA,
although no agreement has been reached. In May, the company was
served with a subpoena from a federal grand jury in Washington
D.C., for documents related to PFOA.