January 25, 2006
Bradenton Herald (Florida)
Teflon chemical to be added to list of
BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
CHICAGO - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to list
a toxic chemical used to make Teflon alongside such well-known
persistent pollutants as mercury, lead and PCBs, signaling increasing
alarm about its effects on human health.
EPA officials also are increasing pressure on companies to stop
using the chemical, called perfluorooctanoic acid, by asking DuPont
and six other corporations to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar
substances from plant emissions and products by 2015.
Regulators still are reviewing potential health risks of such
chemicals, which have been used for more than half a century with
virtually no government oversight.
A top EPA official said Wednesday there is no reason for people
to doubt the safety of products made with the chemicals, which
are key ingredients in the manufacture of non-stick cookware,
coated food wrappers, rain-repellent clothing and stain-resistant
carpets and clothing.
But environmental and health regulators are concerned about PFOA
because it is turning up in people and animals throughout the
world. Last year, the EPA's independent science advisory board
concluded PFOA should be classified as a "likely human carcinogen."
"The science on PFOA is still coming in, but the concern
is there and so acting now to minimize future releases of PFOA
is the right thing to do," said Susan B. Hazen, acting assistant
administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic
Substances. "It's the right thing to do for our health and
Under a plan outlined by Hazen, PFOA and related substances would
be listed for the first time in an annual tally of chemicals released
into the environment by industry. The Toxics Release Inventory
has nudged companies to curb other types of pollution by giving
regulators and the public more information.
The EPA plan would classify PFOA as a persistent bioaccumulative
toxin - a pollutant that builds up in people and animals and takes
years to break down.
Other substances already in that category include mercury, lead
and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The agency says "relatively
small amounts" of such substances "can pose human and
environmental health threats."
Requiring companies to detail their releases of PFOA "should
help us and the public understand and appreciate the kinds of
progress being made" to reduce emissions, said Charles Auer,
a top EPA official who has been leading the agency's investigation.
DuPont, currently the only firm that manufactures PFOA in the
United States, agreed to join the EPA's voluntary program to eliminate
releases of the chemical from its manufacturing plants by 2015,
though the company did not commit to phasing out its use of the
In a letter to the EPA, the company said it already has reduced
global emissions of PFOA from its plants by 94 percent.
"We've been working on this very hard for quite a while,"
said David Boothe, an executive in DuPont's fluoropolymer products
DuPont contends the chemical does not pose any health threats
to humans. But company records show DuPont has known about the
potential risks of PFOA for years and has developed dozens of
The chemical is used as a processing aid in the manufacture of
Teflon, known best for its use in non-stick cookware. It also
forms when related chemicals that are sprayed on clothing, carpeting
and food packaging break down in the body or the environment.
Little was known about PFOA outside DuPont and a handful of other
companies until 2002, when internal company documents started
to be made public as part of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf
of thousands of people living near a Teflon plant along the Ohio
River in West Virginia.
DuPont later agreed to pay at least $107 million in a legal settlement
with plant neighbors whose drinking water is contaminated with
PFOA. Industry records disclosed during the court proceedings
prompted the EPA's ongoing review of health risks, which led to
the plan announced Wednesday.
Other companies being asked to voluntarily reduce PFOA emissions
are 3M/Dyneon, Arkema, Inc., AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Ciba Specialty
Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Daikin and Solvay Solexis.
Two-page letters from EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson ask
the companies to move toward eliminating PFOA and related chemicals
from emissions and products by 2015. Research indicates the other
substances, known as telomers, break down to PFOA and could be
a major source of human exposure.
Environmental groups that have pressured the EPA to ban PFOA hailed
the agency's plan.
While companies are not required to comply with the agency's
push to phase out emissions of PFOA and its use in products, EPA
officials suggested the plan could eventually result in eliminating
it from use.
PFOA builds up in blood and takes years to leave the body. Some
research has suggested it is so persistent that it could remain
in the environment for years, perhaps even longer than banned
substances such as PCBs and the pesticide DDT.
"It's more persistent, just as toxic and we're finding it
in everyone," said Tim Kropp, senior scientist for the Environmental
Working Group, a nonprofit research organization. "What the
agency is doing is allowing science to drive the phaseout as we
learn more about this."
Late last year, DuPont agreed to pay a record $10.25 million
fine for failing to tell the EPA what it knew about PFOA, including
studies that found the chemical had contaminated human blood and
should be considered "extremely toxic."
Among other things, the agency had accused DuPont of failing
to submit a 1981 study revealing that PFOA was passed from pregnant
employees to their fetuses. Two of five babies born to Teflon
plant employees that year had eye and face defects similar to
those found in newborn rats exposed to the chemical, according
to company records.
As part of the settlement with the EPA, DuPont agreed to conduct
more research on telomers in grease- and stain-resistant coatings
for carpets, clothing and food wrappers.
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