March 9, 2006
The News Journal (Delaware)
EPA admits C8 may be unsafe for humans
Agency says chemical used by DuPont also poses a risk to the environment
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
The News Journal
Federal officials have quietly admitted that chemicals used to
make popular nonstick, nonstain products may be unsafe to humans
and the environment.
The acknowledgement came in a proposed requirement to test any
new products that rely on controversial chemicals already used
in materials like DuPont's flagship "Teflon" coating.
"Based on recent information, EPA
can no longer conclude that these polymers will not present an
unreasonable risk to human health or the environment," the
Environmental Protection Agency said in the proposal -- published
without fanfare in a federal legal register Tuesday.
The proposal -- and its conclusions -- surfaced as The DuPont
Co. faces new scrutiny over the handling of those chemicals at
its Chambers Works plant on the Delaware River, near the foot
of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
The compounds have been labeled as a likely cause of cancer.
DuPont and the EPA both have said that Teflon is safe for consumers,
but have agreed to a phase-out plan for some fluorine-containing
chemicals used in its production.
One of those chemicals -- perfluorooctanoic acid, also called
PFOA or C8 -- is used by DuPont Co. in the production of Teflon
and other products.
PFOA-related products are a $1 billion a year business for DuPont.
The company sells the materials to other businesses for use in
thousands of products ranging from cookware to fabric coatings,
food packaging, denture cleaners, shampoo, electronic goods and
In a prepared statement, DuPont said it believes its products
are safe and that it was studying the EPA's plan for testing of
"We do not believe the rule has a significant impact on
our business," the statement noted.
DuPont, the only producer of PFOA in the United States, and several
major producers worldwide, already have agreed to phase out the
chemical under an EPA-sponsored program.
Tim Kropp, a senior scientist for Environmental Working Group,
said the EPA's latest proposal indicates that products are reaching
consumers without adequate study of potential health hazards.
"As the proposal clearly lays out, the reason they're worried
about the new formulations is that they're worried about the old
ones," said Kropp, whose group pressed the EPA to act for
years on PFOA. "The EPA doesn't have the power to take on
old chemicals very well.
"I think this document, combined with the proposed phase
out, is really sort of a vindication for the concerns that have
been raised over the past couple of years," Kropp said.
The proposal, he said, "will give an extra measure of confidence
that the alternative that the companies have agreed to move to
Chemical found in N.J. well
In Pennsville Township, N.J., near the Chambers Works site, officials
have confirmed that low-level traces of PFOA -- which has been
labeled as a likely cause of cancer -- have turned up in one well
used to supply public taps.\
Similar results are under study in Carneys Point and Penns Grove,
according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a nonprofit group
that discovered the contamination during house-by-house testing.
"This is going to become a big issue," said Tracy Carluccio,
a Riverkeeper staffer. "It's already found in so many places
in the environment that any new source is of concern."
In mid-December, DuPont agreed to pay $16.5 million in fines
and compensatory spending to settle EPA charges the company failed
to report PFOA releases and human exposures, and information about
possible toxic effects. The 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.
The company established a $108 million reserve last year to cover
class-action lawsuit settlements involving water pollution claims
by West Virginia and Ohio residents.
Exposure studies have found the chemicals "at low levels
in the blood of humans and wildlife throughout the United States,
providing clear evidence of widespread exposure," the EPA
noted in its announcement Tuesday.
The agency listed several ways the chemical could potentially
be getting into humans," including consumption of food packaged
in treated papers, inhalation of chemicals from treated products
or pollution from manufacturers."
Although blood concentrations in most people are low, its widespread
presence and its potential to accumulate in blood and tissue is
a concern, the EPA notice said.
DuPont officials have meanwhile revealed that they hope to begin
shipping some PFOA-related chemicals from Chambers
Works to a proposed $20 million facility in Pascagoula, Miss.,
for treatment prior to use in New Jersey. The treatment is designed
to reduce impurities in the product and create more environmentally
friendly products, David McMellon, manager of the company's First
Chemical plant, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
"What I'm getting from our folks is: 'If there wasn't anything
wrong with it before, why are they taking it down there for treatment
and sending it back?' " said John Rowe, president of a United
Steelworkers union local at Chambers Works.
Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006, The News Journal.