December 15, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware)
DuPont fined $16.5 million
by the EPA
Settlement in W.Va. Teflon plant case is noncourt record for agency
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
The DuPont Co.'s failure to report widespread exposures
to a potentially toxic chemical used to manufacture nonstick pans,
stain-resistant carpet and hamburger wrappers will cost the company
$16.5 million in fines and compensatory payouts.
Environmental Protection Agency officials said the
settlement produced the largest administrative, noncourt civil
penalty in agency history, and would serve as a warning to industries
that flout federal toxic substance control laws.
"This settlement sends a strong message that
companies are responsible for promptly informing EPA about risk
information associated with their chemicals," said Granta
Y. Nakayama, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement
and Compliance Assurance.
Although the action was triggered by revelations about problems
at DuPont's Teflon plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., its terms require
the company to spend $5 million studying how a wider variety of
related chemicals and consumer products behave and break down
in the environment.
Some of the chemicals covered
by the research deal are handled at DuPont's Chambers Works plant
in Deepwater, N.J., at the foot of the Delaware Memorial
Bridge, including C-8 -- also known as perfluorooctanoic acid
or PFOA -- a chemical used in the production of Teflon.
One national organization, Environmental Working
Group, said the penalty highlighted the federal government's weak
hand in dealing with industrial polluters.
"What's the appropriate fine for a $25 billion
company that for decades hid vital health information about a
toxic chemical that now contaminates every man, woman and child
in the United States?" Group President Ken Cook said in a
statement. "We're pretty sure it's not $16 million, even
if that is a record amount under a federal law that everyone acknowledges
is extremely weak."
Under its pact with the EPA, DuPont acknowledged
no liability for failure to report its 1981 discovery that a compound
used to make Teflon had contaminated the placenta and bloodstream
of a West Virginia worker's unborn child. The agreement also settled
seven other claims of company failure to disclose violations of
the Toxic Substance Control Act and a related hazardous pollution
Among the complaints were allegations that DuPont
withheld information for years about unexpected contamination
in the blood of workers, and pollution releases that eventually
contaminated water supplies serving thousands in West Virginia
"The fact of the matter is, we could have litigated
this thing. We could have paid a lot of money and been in court
for several years," said DuPont Senior Vice President and
General Counsel Stacey Mobley. "We made a determination that
we're going to put this thing behind us."
Mobley said DuPont believes there are no human health
effects associated with C-8.
More cases pending
DuPont has come under intense scrutiny in recent
years with disclosures that the company's synthetic chemicals,
including PFOA, have been detected in the bloodstreams of people
and animals around the globe. An EPA scientific advisory panel
recently recommended labeling the material a "likely"
carcinogen, although the finding remains in dispute.
Earlier this year, DuPont set aside $15 million
in anticipation of settling the case. Still pending is a federal
criminal probe of the company's handling of federal requests for
The settlement requires DuPont pay $10.25 million
in fines while also spending $5 million on a three-year study
of the environmental breakdown characteristics of nine "fluorotelomer-based"
products. The group includes soil-, stain- and grease-resistant
coatings. Another $1.25 million will go to support school projects
in West Virginia that reduce student exposure to harmful chemicals
in science classrooms.
A former DuPont Co. engineer who lives in Hockessin
recently accused the company of covering up indications that one
of those chemicals escaped at higher-than-expected rates from
paper coatings widely used for fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn
bags and other prepared foods.
Mobley said DuPont already has cut PFOA emissions
by 98 percent at its U.S. plants "and we are committed to
reducing those emissions by 99 percent by 2007."
Millions set for settlements
The company established a $108 million reserve last
year to pay settlements in a West Virginia class action lawsuit
involving citizen water pollution claims in Ohio and West Virginia.
The settlement includes a medical monitoring agreement that could
cost the company up to $235 million.
Vincent, Ohio, resident Kathy
Minerd said tests had shown that she carries 480 parts per billion
of PFOA in her blood, while her husband's levels are 290 ppb --
concentrations that were unknown outside of the workplace before
the lawsuit forced community testing.
"At first they said it couldn't hurt you, but
I'm sure it'll be a long time before they really know," Kathy
DuPont is the nation's only manufacturer of PFOA,
although several other companies use the compound.
Company spokesman R. Clifton Webb said DuPont's
experience at its Parkersburg, W.Va. plant, where emissions have
fallen dramatically, would help in other pollution control efforts.
He also said that the company releases at a different plant that
makes PFOA in Fayetteville, N.C., were far lower than those experienced
by 3M Co., DuPont's previous supplier. In 2002 3M stopped selling
C-8; DuPont began producing at Fayetteville the same year, and
now is investigating contamination of groundwater near the plant.
Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.