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EPA to Act Against DuPont Over Chemical

Jul 8, 2004 | AP

The Environmental Protection Agency will seek millions of dollars in fines against chemical giant DuPont for failing to provide information about the potential health and environmental risks of a chemical used to make Teflon, officials said Thursday.

The EPA alleges that DuPont repeatedly failed over a 20-year period to submit information the company had obtained regarding the synthetic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C8.

DuPont spokesman Clif Webb said the company, which maintains that PFOA is not harmful to human health or the environment, will file a formal denial to the EPA complaint.

"We did not see and have not seen harm to human health or the environment, and believe that we have complied with the reporting requirements in all three cases," Webb said.

PFOA is used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, including Teflon products, at DuPont's Washington Works facility near Parkersburg, W.Va.

Officials said that from 1981 to 2001, DuPont failed to report information to EPA about the risk posed by PFOA to human health or the environment.

Companies are required by the Toxic Substances Control Act to report such information immediately. EPA has the authority to seek a penalty of $25,000 per day for violations occurring before Jan. 30, 1997, and up to $27,500 per day for violations occurring thereafter, for each day that DuPont failed to report the information.

The EPA is taking administrative action against DuPont for two violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act and one violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. DuPont faces a potential maximum fine of some $300 million, but Tom Skinner, head of EPA's Office of Enforcement, said the agency likely will not pursue such a figure.

"It is accurate to say that we will be seeking millions," Skinner said. "It's going to be a substantial amount of penalty that we are seeking."

EPA officials stressed that Thursday's action concerns only DuPont's failure to comply with reporting requirements. The EPA is conducting a separate investigation to determine what, if any, risks to human health or the environment are posed by PFOA.

According to federal regulators, DuPont observed PFOA in blood samples taken from pregnant workers at the Washington Works facility in 1981. In at least one woman, the chemical had transferred to the fetus.

DuPont detected the chemical in public water supplies as early as the mid-1980s in West Virginia and Ohio communities near the Washington Works facility, EPA officials said. By 1991, the company had information that the chemical was in water supplies at levels greater than its exposure guidelines indicated would be without any effect to members of the community.

In 1997, according to federal regulators, DuPont failed to provide EPA with all toxicological information the company had regarding PFOA, despite an EPA request for such information.

The EPA began taking a look last year after the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, complained that the company should have turned over information to EPA but had not.

DuPont is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit brought by residents living near the West Virginia plant who contend their drinking water was contaminated by PFOA. The first-phase of the lawsuit is expected to start in September in state court in West Virginia.

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