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DuPont Chemical Under Scrutiny

Federal EPA orders more tests of material used to make Teflon

Apr 15, 2003 | THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Federal regulators are stepping up their investigation of a chemical DuPont uses to make Teflon after determining it might cause developmental problems in young girls and women of childbearing age.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it is concerned enough about potential health hazards posed by ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as C8 or PFOA, that it will conduct the most extensive scientific review of a chemical in the agency's 33-year history.

Questions about the chemical's safety come as DuPont and other companies have embarked on advertising campaigns to promote products made with Teflon, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpet and clothing.

DuPont says the products are safe, and the EPA says that, for the time being, there is no reason for consumers to think otherwise.

"The data that is before us is raising concerns, but we have very limited data,'' said Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

"We need to get the science sorted out first,'' Johnson said, "then undertake regulatory action if necessary.''

Studies provided by DuPont and 3M, once the leading manufacturer of C8, revealed that the chemical has been detected in human blood nationwide, in people ages 2 to 96.

Industry studies also have linked C8 to a variety of health problems, including cancer and liver damage, in rats. But regulators don't know whether those findings are relevant to humans. Nor do they know how C8 is making its way into human blood.

DuPont has used the unregulated chemical for more than 50 years to make Teflon, which is applied to dozens of popular household and industrial products to resist water, grease, stains and other chemicals.

Some carpets, clothing, food wrappers and paper products are coated with related chemicals, known as fluoropolymers and fluorotelomers, that break down in the body or the environment to C8, according to industry studies.

Under agreements with the EPA, more research will be conducted by DuPont and other companies that manufacture or use products made with C8 and its chemical cousins. The agency also is encouraging independent research, but government funding isn't expected.

Manufacturers are expected to complete their studies by the end of the year.

In a statement, DuPont reiterated that "there is no evidence indicating adverse human health effects related to low levels of exposure'' to C8.

"We share the EPA desire to safeguard human health and the environment, and respect the position that there are still questions to be addressed,'' said Richard Angiullo, vice president and general manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts.

The EPA decided to order more studies after the agency concluded last month that C8 might pose developmental risks to young girls and women of childbearing age. The agency's risk assessment did not address other C8-related health problems suggested by animal studies.

Regulators still are trying to figure out how the general population is being exposed to C8.

Earlier this month, The Dispatch reported that DuPont scientists told the EPA in November that people might be exposed to fluorotelomers by ingesting them or absorbing them through the skin. Potential sources include clothing, carpets, cleaning products, food-wrap paper, medical fabric and paints, according to a company presentation.

In a summary, the company said one of its concerns was that the products might break down as they age and suffer wear and tear.

All but about 3 percent of the C8 used to make Teflon is removed during the manufacturing process, according to DuPont. Company officials stress that cookware sold under the Teflon brand does not contain C8.

Three Canadian scientists came to a different conclusion in the July 2001 issue of the journal Nature. Their study identified C8 as one of the chemicals released when fluoropolymers, such as Teflon, decompose as they are repeatedly heated.

The study is among several documents the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, has posted on a Web site (www.ewg.org/reports/pfcworld) that advises people to avoid products containing perfluorochemicals related to C8.

The group is urging the EPA to ban the chemicals, which it estimates could end up being more pervasive in the environment than DDT and PCBs compounds that already have been forced off the market.

"The data about C8 suggest much greater health risks than the EPA is willing to publicly talk about now,'' said Richard Wiles, the group's senior vice president. "They continued to say arsenic-treated lumber was safe, too, even as they were in the process of forcing manufacturers to taking it off the market.''


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