August 10, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware)
Union raps DuPont on C-8 disclosure
Steelworkers urge health warnings on products
BY JEFF MONTGOMERY / The News Journal
The United Steelworkers geared up for a bitter labor battle Tuesday
when it targeted the DuPont Co. in an announcement calling for
public health warnings on products that use a chemical produced
by the company.
Union officials said companies have “a
legal duty to warn” customers about cancer risks and other
health concerns posed by perfluorooctanoic acid, also called PFOA
or C-8. The chemical is under investigation and has been tentatively
labeled as a likely carcinogen by a federal science panel.
“What we are trying to do is simply
allow these companies to warn their customers and consumers that
there’s maybe a problem,” said Joseph Drexler, a spokesman
for the labor group. “So we’ve done an extensive mailing
to carpet cleaning companies, major retail clothing companies
and fast food chains.”
But DuPont spokeswoman Leslie A. Beckhoff said the USW’s
announcement was part of a two-year-old campaign to use regulatory
agencies, customers and public opinion to pressure the company
in labor dealings.
“It obviously is another tactic they’re using to
embarrass the company and to get us to do things that we might
otherwise not do and that might impact our business badly,”
USW represents about 1,800 DuPont employees, including 567 at
the company’s Chambers Works, located at the foot of the
Delaware Memorial Bridge in Deepwater, N.J. In a press release
posted on its Web site, the labor group said it is concerned about
workers being exposed to PFOA and that the company is not dealing
with the issue in “an open and responsible fashion.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has been working with industry
officials since 2002 to assess risks from PFOA.
EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said Tuesday that federal officials
have yet to release a final report. Some say the EPA’s findings
may lead to formal regulation of the substance.
DuPont has disputed claims that PFOA can cause serious health
The federal government, however, has opened both civil and criminal
probes into DuPont’s reporting of information involving
potential health effects. The company settled a class-action lawsuit
for more than $100 million in West Virginia filed by residents
whose water was tainted by PFOA from a DuPont plant near the Ohio
border. Last month, an Ohio water utility that owns wells tainted
by DuPont’s PFOA reported finding high levels of the same
chemical in the blood of 24 customers.
DuPont and other companies using PFOA have committed to reduce
their reliance on the compound and to seek substitutes.
“DuPont knew about this 25 years ago. I think it’s
irresponsible of them to let this go this long and not have a
substitute,” said Jim Rowe, president of USW Local 943 at
The union sent out letters or circulars cautioning companies
like W.L. Gore, GAP, Eddie Bauer, Wal Mart and McDonalds –
all of which use the compound in their products – that they
may face legal claims if they fail to warn customers about a chemical
that eventually harms them.
The EPA began its review after reports that a few parts per billion
of PFOA could be found in the blood of most Americans, including
25 customers of Ohio’s Little Hocking water authority who
were tested. They had blood levels averaging 70 to 100 times higher
than the 3 to 5 parts per billion common across the country. The
Ohio group’s levels ranged from 112 to 1,040 parts per billion.
The Little Hocking Water Association found C-8 concentrations
ranging from 112 parts per billion to more than 1,000 parts per
billion in two dozen customers tested.
Association general manager Robert L. Griffin said in a letter
to the EPA that the water agency arranged for the samples “recognizing
the threats to human health” posed by PFOA.
In late July, the University of Pennsylvania reported finding
similar results in a larger blood-testing study that focused on
people whose water comes from wells near DuPont’s Parkersburg,
W. Va., plant.
Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.