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EPA Worried About Chemical Found In Household Items

Apr 15, 2003 | Oakland Tribune

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rang a warning bell Monday about a chemical found in scores of consumer products from Teflon pans and Gore-Tex jackets to water-resistant carpets.

The agency announced that it is requiring the seven U.S. manufacturers of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, to take a closer look at the health effects of the substance, which has become widespread in the environment.

Studies by industry and independent scientists show that 95 percent of Americans carry traces of PFOA in their blood, a finding that triggered the EPA concern about the chemical, according to Dave Deegan, an EPA spokesman. Scientists do not yet understand how the chemical has become so widespread and how it gets inside humans, he added.

Deegan said reviewing the safety of PFOAs is a priority, but he emphasized that there is no evidence yet that the low levels generally found in people pose any health threat.

The seven U.S. firms that manufacture PFOAs will need to conduct additional studies to investigate its health effects in animals and to determine how it spreads in the environment. Deegan said he expected the results to be submitted to the EPA within a year.

"We share the EPA's desire to safeguard human health and the environment and respect the position that there are still questions to be addressed," Richard Angiullo, vice president and general manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts, said in a statement. The firm is the country's largest manufacturer of PFOAs.

"DuPont remains confident that our use of PFOA over the past 50 years has not posed a risk to either human health or the environment and that our products are safe," Angiullo said. "Our confidence is based on an extensive scientific database."

However, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group that researches hazardous chemicals, said DuPont withheld information about the potential dangers of PFOA for more than two decades.

Ken Cook, the president of the group, which has offices in Oakland and Washington, said PFOAs belong in the "rogue's gallery" of chemicals that have become widespread in the environment.

Studies show that PFOAs don't break down in the environment, persist in humans and animals for years, and are linked with reproductive and developmental abnormalities in animals, he said.

He said PFOAs accumulate in the blood and liver, and have a half-life of about four years, meaning someone with 100 parts per billion of PFOA in their blood would, four years later, have 50 parts per billion from that same dose. In addition, he said people appear to be continually exposed to the substance.

PFOAs are also showing up in wildlife, the environmental group found. For example, tests showed it was in seals in San Francisco and Tiburon.

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