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EPA moves to ban Teflon ingredient

Jan 26, 2006 | USA Today

In a surprise turn Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to eliminate the production of a suspected carcinogen used in the making of Teflon and other non-stick and non-stain coatings.

The EPA has asked eight manufacturers that use a family of chemicals known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, to reduce production 95 percent by 2010 and to stop using it altogether by 2015.

PFOA, found in the blood of more than 95 percent of Americans, has been tied to cancer and developmental damage in animal studies. It is used in the process that makes water, stain and grease resistant products, everything from microwave popcorn bags to pizza box liners, non-stick cookware to pillows, upholstery to carpets.

Environmentalists and consumer groups have long dogged the agency to act against PFOA.

"The science is still coming in, but the concern is there, so acting now to minimize future releases of PFOA is the right thing to do for our environment and our health," says Susan Hazen, of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

"This program will call on industry to essentially eliminate PFOA release and its presence in products over the next decade," Hazen says.

EPA officials are calling for voluntary PFOA cutbacks because "under the Toxic Substances Control Act they don't have authority to ban it," says Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group, a public interest group that has long fought to bring public attention to PFOA in the environment. If the EPA is able to get PFOA phased out, Wiles says it will be "the single biggest action the agency's ever taken."

The DuPont Company announced Wednesday it will comply with the EPA's voluntary guidelines. "DuPont has been aggressively reducing PFOA emissions to the environment," says DuPont vice president Susan Stalnecker.

DuPont has been at the center of this controversy. The company agreed in December to pay $10.25 million in fines and $6.25 million for research and education to resolve federal charges that it hid information about the dangers posed by PFOA.

There are less toxic alternatives readily available, says Scott Mabury, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Toronto in Canada.

PFOA is characterized by a chain of eight carbon atoms. But a version of four carbon atoms works well and doesn't accumulate in bodies, Mabury says. "You won't find them in huge quantities in polar bears or human blood, like we do the eight-carbon version. There will be chemical pollution from it but you can't have toxicology if you don't have exposure. It is an appropriate chemical solution to a chemical problem."

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