January 26, 2006
Washington Post - Page A01
Harmful Teflon Chemical To Be Eliminated
By Juliet Eilperin
Eight U.S. companies, including giant DuPont Co., agreed yesterday
to virtually eliminate a harmful chemical used to make Teflon
from all consumer products coated with the ubiquitous nonstick
Although the chemical would still be used to manufacture Teflon
and similar products, processes will be developed to ensure that
perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) would not be released into the environment
from finished products or manufacturing plants.
The voluntary pact, which was crafted by the Environmental Protection
Agency, will force companies to reduce manufacturing emissions
of PFOA by 95 percent by no later than 2010. They will also have
to reduce trace amounts of the compound in consumer products by
95 percent during the same period and virtually eliminate them
The agreement will dramatically reduce the extent to which PFOA
shows up in a wide variety of everyday products, including pizza
boxes, nonstick pans and microwave-popcorn bags.
While not as sweeping as the federal ban on DDT in 1972, yesterday's
agreement is expected to have profound implications for public
health and the environment. An independent federal scientific
advisory board is expected to recommend soon whether the government
should classify the chemical as a "likely" or "probable"
carcinogen in humans, which could trigger a new set of federal
"The science is still coming in on PFOA, but the concern
is there," said Susan B. Hazen, acting assistant administrator
of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.
"This is the right thing to do for our health and our environment."
The move, which came just a month after DuPont reached a $16.5
million settlement with EPA over the company's failure to report
possible health risks associated with PFOA, drew applause from
environmental groups that have frequently criticized both the
administration and DuPont.
"This is one of those days when the Environmental Protection
Agency is at its best. With its announcement today, the EPA is
challenging an entire industry to err on the side of precaution
and public safety, and invent new ways of doing business,"
said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an
advocacy organization. "As harshly as we have singled out
DuPont for criticism for its past handling of PFOA pollution,
today we want to single out and commend the company and acknowledge
its leadership going forward."
DuPont officials said they were confident they could alter manufacturing
methods over the coming decade to contain PFOA exposure from products
that generated $1 billion in sales for the company in 2004.
"It's important to do this because this is a persistent
material in the environment, and it's at low levels in people's
blood," said David Boothe, DuPont's global business director.
To remove PFOA, he said, the company will subject some of its
products to extra heat and will sometimes add a step in the manufacturing
process. "We're going to push it really hard and take it
as far as we can."
Scientific studies have not established a link between using
products containing trace amounts of PFOA, such as microwave-popcorn
bags or nonstick pans, and elevated cancer levels. Hazen said
yesterday's announcement should "not indicate any concern
. . . for consumers using household products" with such coatings.
Several other companies agreed yesterday to reduce public exposure
to the chemical, including 3M Co., Ciba and Clariant Corp. But
DuPont, which settled a class-action suit last year accusing it
of contaminating drinking water in Ohio and West Virginia communities
near its plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., has attracted the most public
scrutiny over its PFOA use.
William Bailey III, who was born in 1981 with multiple birth
defects while his mother, Sue, was working with the chemical at
the Parkersburg plant, said he will "be watching" to
see if the chemical giant complies with the new agreement.
"They're trying to save face," said Bailey, who is
suing DuPont over his birth defects.
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