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Panel: Teflon Chemical a Likely Carcinogen

Jan 30, 2006 | AP

A chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon and other nonstick and stain-resistant products should be considered a "likely" carcinogen, according to an independent scientific review panel advising the Environmental Protection Agency.

The recommendation included in the panel's final draft report is consistent with its preliminary finding, which went beyond the EPA's own determination that there was only "suggestive evidence" from animal studies that perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts are potential human carcinogens.

"The predominant panel view was that the descriptor 'likely to be carcinogenic' was more consistent with currently available data, while a few panel members reached the conclusion that the current evidence fails to exceed the descriptor 'suggestive,' of carcinogenicity," the panel said in a draft report released Monday.

Officials with Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co., the sole North American producer of PFOA, took issue with the panel's conclusions.

"We disagree with the panel's recommendation on the cancer classification, and we continue to support the EPA's draft risk assessment," said Robert Rickard, director of health and environmental sciences for DuPont.

"This reflects recommended classification; what's more important is risk, and we are confident that PFOA does not pose a cancer risk to the general public," added Rickard, who said the carcinogenicity classification was based on animal data and does not reflect data from human studies.

PFOA is a processing aid used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, which have a wide variety of product applications, including nonstick cookware. The chemical also can be a byproduct in the manufacturing of fluorotelomers used in surface protection products for applications such as stain-resistant textiles and grease-resistant food wrapping.

Besides disagreeing with the EPA on the potential carcinogenicity of PFOA, also known as C-8, a majority of members on the review panel also recommended that the EPA's risk assessment include additional data on PFOA's potential to cause liver, testicular, pancreatic and breast cancers. A majority of panel members also recommended that the chemical's effects on hormones and on the nervous and immune systems be included in the risk assessment, and that studies should not be limited by age, gender or species in assessing human risk.

The findings of the panel, which was established by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, will be reviewed by SAB officials in a Feb. 15 teleconference.

"The real outcome of this is the panel going back and saying `You've got to include this extra stuff here; it wasn't really a rigorous analysis," said Tim Kropp, senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization whose work has prompted increased government scrutiny of PFOA.

While the EPA is free to accept or reject the panel's recommendations, Kropp said it rare for the EPA to dismiss an advisory board's advice.

"They've asked them to do a more rigorous analysis, to do a more scientific method of determining risk, and you can't argue with that," he said. "That's just good science."

EPA officials declined to say how the agency might respond to the report.

"It's sort of what we expected," said EPA deputy administrator Marcus Peacock, adding that he had not read the full report. "There's more we don't know here than what we do know."

Susan Hazen, EPA's acting assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said much of the work aimed at better understanding PFOA already is underway.

Hazen and Peacock also pointed to an EPA initiative announced last week asking DuPont and seven other companies that manufacture or use PFOA, its precursors, and similar compounds to reduce environmental releases and levels of those chemicals in products by 95 percent no later than 2010, using the year 2000 as a baseline.

The EPA also wants the industry to work toward the elimination of PFOA and related chemicals from emissions and products by no later than 2015.


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