PFOA 2005
October 16, 2005. Agencies widen study of toxins in fish.
By Jeff Montgomery. The News Journal (Delaware).

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October 16, 2005

The News Journal (Delaware)

Agencies widen study of toxins in fish
Teflon ingredient might be added to list of hazards


Federal and state regulators have for years issued warnings about levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other industrial chemicals in fish.

Now flame-retardant chemicals and compounds used to make stick- and stain-resistant products, including DuPont's Teflon, may be among the targets in a widening study of fish tissue contaminants and consumer health risks, according to federal officials.

The assessments would be part of a joint attempt by the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration to broaden and clarify information about toxins in fish and to help improve state-by-state fish consumption advisories.

The FDA and EPA signed a five-year agreement in June calling for "close collaboration" in assessing environmental contaminants in fish and shellfish and consumer safety.

Last month EPA managers publicly singled out two relatively new chemicals for mention during a conference in Baltimore on fish contamination: polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDE, used as a flame retardant; and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, used to make DuPont's Teflon coatings and thousands of other consumer products.

"What they were saying is, they need to know more about the levels" of PFOA in water and fish tissue, said Kerry S. Humphrey, an EPA spokeswoman. "It is true that there is interest in gathering more information about what may be emerging contaminants."

Both chemicals were identified during the Baltimore conference as "emerging contaminants" likely to come under scrutiny in fish tissue and public health assessments, according to a check of one EPA presentation document. Both have been found throughout the environment and in a wide assortment of consumer products, ranging from baby pajamas and mattresses to fast-food packaging, furnishings, clothing and industrial products.

PFOA, a chemical that did not exist decades ago, has turned up in the blood of people and animals around the globe. PBDE, a compound that some scientists have compared with PCBs, has been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

Tim Kropp, a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., said the EPA was justified in focusing on PFOA, now under consideration for listing as a probable carcinogen.

"You have something extremely persistent that's going to accumulate in people," Kropp said. "You should always know what the safe level is. There should be some threshold of concern."

Since federal officials issue advisories for mercury and PCBs, Kropp said, "they should make the same determinations for things like the Teflon chemicals, which are indestructible and in everyone."

PFOA already has become the focus of lawsuits against the DuPont Co., a company that uses the chemical during production of its flagship Teflon coatings. DuPont already has agreed to pay millions to compensate and evaluate the health of Ohio and West Virginia residents in areas where PFOA has contaminated drinking water.

Reserving comment

A DuPont spokesman said in a prepared statement that the company would reserve comment on the possibility of fish consumption advisories based on PFOA contamination.

An EPA ruling is due in November on a penalty order against DuPont in a case involving federal claims that the company failed to report signs of potential health issues involving PFOA.

Little is known about the specific toxic effects of brominated flame retardants, but some researchers say the increasing presence of the compounds in human tissue is worrisome because they have been associated with cancer and other health problems in animal studies.
The EPA-FDA agreement encourages "uniformity where appropriate" in warnings about consumption of fish from commercial and sport fish catches. FDA regulations in some cases now tolerate higher concentrations of toxic pollutants for consumer products than levels recommended in EPA-backed warnings for public and "subsistence" fishing.

Under the pact, both agencies would encourage development of advisories that consider "both risks and benefits of consumption of commercial and noncommercial fish and shellfish."

Copyright © 2005, The News Journal.

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