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Chemical runoff found in bottled water

Lawsuits filed in Midwest over concerns of exposure

Jan 24, 2006 |

A chemical used to make Teflon, a non-stick coating most commonly used in cookware, was recently found in the bottled water supplied to a small town in Ohio. The town was receiving the contaminated bottled water as the result of a settlement from a 2004 law suit involving DuPont Co., a manufacturing company that uses the chemical compound C8 in making Teflon products.

Citizens from towns in both Ohio and West Virginia filed lawsuits against DuPont Co. in 2004 on the basis of claims that the corporation was not fully disclosing the health threats posed by the chemical runoff from their plant in West Virginia. Both Crystal Spring, the company that supplied the 1,000 citizens with bottled water, and DuPont Co. installed filters in their water supplies upon notification of contamination.

Kymron Decesare, staff research associate in the department of chemistry at UC Davis, said that Teflon and the chemicals used when producing it have not been researched enough for the amount of exposure that Americans have with these products.

"The first thought Americans had was how great it is, so we covered everything in our kitchens with it," he said. "Now 95 percent of Americans have Teflon in their blood, and scientists have no idea how to get it out."

Decesare noted that Teflon could have detrimental health effects yet to be discovered.

"The situation with Teflon is similar to that of DDT [the first modern pesticide]," he said. "The idea that DDT, which was thought to be perfectly safe, is strongly connected with Alzheimer's is widely accepted in Europe and Canada. So maybe after 30 years of using Teflon we will have another disease like Alzheimer's that we can't explain."

Michael Johnson, research ecologist at UC Davis, said that Teflon and the chemicals used to produce it could be dangerous if not adequately examined.

"It seems like only a matter of time before the emergence of another significant ecological or human health problem due to the release of an untested chemical into the environment," Johnson said in an e-mail interview. "Based on the chemical properties of PFOA [a chemical used in making Teflon], it appears that the chemical will be around for a very long time in the environment, like DDT."

Johnson also noted that with the overwhelming use of Teflon in American kitchens, as well as the likelihood that some of those products are put in landfills at some point, the release of Teflon into the environment is inevitable.

Despite the Environmental Protection Agency's analysis that C8 is likely a carcinogenic, DuPont Co. maintains that the chemical is harmless. Some scientists speculate that the disagreement exists due to categorizing several chemicals under the name Teflon.

Although DuPont has apologized for the high amounts of C8 in the water, they maintain that the chemical is harmless and will not pose any significant health effects.

In a 2004 news release in response to the EPA's reports, DuPont General Counsel Stacey Mobley claimed the corporation has been appropriately forthright to the EPA.

"Scientific evidence confirms that the trace amount of PFOA found in this one data point would pose no risk to human health," she said. "In the absence of substantial risk of harm, the information is simply not required to be reported."

Johnson noted that toxicology reports may not reveal the truth about Teflon because of the groupings of chemicals.

"Taken individually, the chemicals could be harmful," Johnson said. "But mixed together and bound into the Teflon matrix, they are unavailable to cause their toxicological effects."

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