October 16, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware)
Agencies widen study of toxins in fish
Teflon ingredient might be added to list of hazards
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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"
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.