PFOA 2006
Teflon chemical to be added to list of toxic substances.
By Michael Hawthorne. Bradenton Herald (Florida). January 25, 2006.


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January 25, 2006

Bradenton Herald (Florida)

Teflon chemical to be added to list of toxic substances

Chicago Tribune

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 our environment."

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 chemical altogether.

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 division.

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 unsuccessful alternatives.

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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