December 18, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware)
DuPont won't say how C-8
is formed. Residents fear contamination.
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
The Environmental Protection Agency wants to know
a lot more about the fate and breakdown of chemicals the DuPont
Co. makes or sells for use at its Chambers Works plant in New
Jersey and other sites around the globe to make nonstick, nonstain,
But government and company
officials are refusing all requests for names of the chemicals
and products targeted in a $5 million study included in a record-breaking
$16.5 million settlement announced by the EPA last week.
And that has some workers and residents around the Deepwater,
N.J., plant wondering if they have been contaminated or misled.
"We expect that our local management will be
forthcoming with this information, since it concerns the health
and safety of our membership inside the facility," said James
Rowe, president of the United Steelworkers local at Chambers Works,
near the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
The EPA would say only that DuPont must spend $5 million on a
three-year study of nine fluorotelomer-based products and chemicals.
The research work is part of a $16.5 million penalty that settled
federal claims DuPont failed to report water pollution, human
blood contamination and toxic hazards connec- ted with production
of Teflon and other nonstick materials.
Chemicals up for study, the
EPA said, have been "claimed by DuPont as ... confidential."
"There have been a number of questions asked
about the biodegradation study that we're not in a position to
talk about," said R. Clifton Webb, a DuPont spokesman.
Settlement documents include only generic names
for the targeted chemicals.
The deal has its roots in mounting concern over
detection of perfluorooctanoic acid -- also known as PFOA or C-8
-- in the human blood around the world. Some scientists suspect
the potentially toxic chemicals are residues of fluoropolymers
and broken-down fluorotelomers used in a variety of industries.
Both compounds are made with fluorine, carbon and
other chemicals, assembled into long, durable chains. Although
fluorotelomers are produced without PFOA, a chemical now made
in America only by DuPont, researchers are concerned that the
fluorotelomers can biodegrade or get broken down under some conditions
The still-confidential DuPont studies "will
provide valuable information so we can better understand the presence
of PFOA in the environment and any potential risks it may pose
to the public," said Susan Hazen, the EPA's principal deputy
assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides,
and Toxic Substances.
A huge number of products have fluorotelomer ties,
ranging from grease-resistant coatings on fast-food wrappers to
fire-fighting foams, from soil- and stain-resistant carpets to
medical products, from personal care items to cleaning supplies.
used to make Teflon have been released to the air and water for
years from Chambers Works, DuPont has confirmed, although levels
have fallen by 98 percent since 1999.
Both types of compounds show up on a list of chemicals
that DuPont provided to New Jersey last year in a report on what
the company knows or believes may be in wastewater discharges
"I'm right here in Collins Park, only half
a mile from the river, and I want to know more," said Jeffrey
M. Ousey, who lives due west. "It needs more attention here.
They've known about this for years. It's as bad as the cigarette
companies knowing about cancer and tobacco for years."
Hazen said DuPont's studies could prompt action.
"During the course of those three years, there
will be interim reports coming out of the agency," Hazan
said. "Much of the information in those reports may in fact
lead us to be able to draw some conclusions earlier than three
Accused of withholding facts
Federal and industry officials launched intensive
studies of PFOA health risks in 2003 after the synthetic chemical
began turning up in the blood of people and animals around the
globe. That study gained urgency as the EPA uncovered details
about DuPont's failure to report troubling findings at its Washington
Works Plant near Parkersburg, W.Va.
The agreement released last week points out that
the research will assess the potential for nine of DuPont's fluorotelomer
products to break down to PFOA and related compounds.
Wilmington resident Al Denio, a former DuPont chemist,
said the company's handling of problems with its $1 billion line
of nonstick, nonstain products could threaten its survival.
"They assure us that it's not harmful, but
how do I know that," said Denio, chairman of the Sierra Club
Delaware Chapter's anti-pollution committee. "It bothers
me to think that this stuff is in everybody's bloodstream and
they keep saying: 'Don't worry about it.' "
DuPont officials have repeatedly said they are unaware
of any human health concerns connected with the chemicals, but
the company has reduced PFOA emissions at plants by 98 percent
EPA officials late last year accused DuPont of withholding
information about potential health hazards connected with PFOA-related
compounds. The agency said the company held back for decades evidence
that the chemical could contaminate fetal blood in pregnant workers,
as well as information about pollution that eventually tainted
water systems serving more than 30,000 people in Ohio and West
Another allegation in the eight-count complaint
settled by the $16.5 million penalty charged that company officials
failed to report "significant lethality" in rats exposed
to unnamed perfluorinated compounds in 1997, a fact "that
should have been reported immediately," an EPA official said.
Jane Nogaki, South Jersey representative for the
New Jersey Environmental Federation, said the latest settlement
is reason enough to take another hard look at DuPont's commercial
wastewater operation. Chambers Works is New Jersey's second-largest
source of toxic pollution.
Testing is first step
DuPont and EPA officials have repeatedly disagreed
about methods for testing the ways fluorotelomers degrade in the
environment -- a dispute that in June 2004 prompted annoyed EPA
officials to announce that the government would conduct taxpayer-funded
studies. Until that point, federal officials had hoped that industry
would finance research into the ways the compounds move in the
environment and living tissues.
DuPont officials had confirmed
that Chambers Works, until recently, discharged thousands of pounds
of PFOA yearly, mostly into the Delaware River by way of the company's
commercial wastewater plant.
Last month, a former DuPont employee accused the
company of ignoring warnings about fluorotelomers and the grease-resistant
coatings produced at the same site during the late 1980s.
"We hope the testing demanded by the EPA, as
part of its settlement with DuPont, is a step in the right direction
to determining the safety of these chemical products," Rowe
said. "In light of the EPA's unprecedented and historic fine
against DuPont, our doubts have grown about DuPont's truthfulness
over the years about the real effects of these chemicals."
Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or email@example.com.