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PFOA From DuPont Plant Polluting Groundwater in Deepwater, New Jersey

May 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP DuPont just announced that it discovered chemical residues from a Teflon ingredient—PFOA—in the groundwater near its Chambers Works plant.  PFOA was confirmed in nine wells around the plant in Deepwater, New Jersey with concentrations as high as 35 times the alert level established last year by New Jersey regulators.  DuPont plant manager Bland Dickey said DuPont is committed to minimizing PFOA releases and ultimately eliminating its use.  Although DuPont claims there is no evidence of health threats from PFOA, a federal advisory panel recommended classifying PFOA as a probable carcinogen.

PFOA—or perfluorooctanoic acid, sometimes called C8—is a synthetic chemical used to make fluoropolymers.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating PFOA because it is very enduring in the environment and is being found not only in the environment, but also in the blood of the general U.S. population; PFOA causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.    Also, perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, have shown up in wildlife, drinking water supplies, and human blood and, recently, a team of researchers—including Kathleen Arcaro of the University of Massachusetts Amherst—recently found PFCs in samples of human milk from nursing mothers in Massachusetts.  PFCs are believed to be carcinogenic and PFOAs are just one of the group of chemicals known as PFCs.

“Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are found in human blood around the world, including the blood of newborns, but this is the first study in the United States to document their occurrence in human milk,” says Arcaro, a professor in the department of veterinary and animal sciences and a member of the environmental sciences program.  The breast milk was collected as part of a larger, ongoing study Arcaro is conducting that is examining the link between environmental exposures and breast cancer.  

PFCs, in general, are persistent chemicals that can linger in the environment and the human body for years without being broken down; several studies have documented the presence of PFCs in the blood of newborns collected immediately after birth.  Studies have also documented the presence of PFCs in children between the ages of two and 12 and have revealed blood levels similar to those found in adults.  It was these studies that led the team to investigate breast-feeding as a source of PFCs.  Milk samples were collected in 2004 from 45 nursing mothers in Massachusetts and the breast milk was studied for nine different PFCs.  The study revealed that perfluorooctane-sulfonate (PFOS), was found in the highest concentration in breast milk.  PFOS is the chemical used to make stain-resistant fabrics.  PFOS was followed by PFOA, which is used in nonstick cookware.  The study also revealed that total PFC concentrations increased during the first six months of nursing.  In a separate Canadian study, it was found that diet contributed 61 percent to a person’s total daily intake of PFCs.

In January 2006, the EPA and eight major companies in the industry—including DuPont—created the 2010/2015 Stewardship Program that involves a commitment to reduce facility emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals by 95 percent by 2010 and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content by 2015.

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