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Showdown for DuPont: EPA Starts Review of Teflon Chemical Now in Human Blood

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, June 6, 2003

WASHINGTON — The start of what DuPont worked for years to avoid began today when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began gathering public comments in an attempt to determine how a Teflon chemical in use for 50 years has found its way into the blood of virtually every American.

The public meeting is the next step in the Agency’s largest-ever review of the industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) (or “C-8” as it is known within DuPont), a key ingredient in the making of the ubiquitous Teflon coating of cookware.

EWG Senior Scientist Dr. Kristina Thayer spoke as one of several “interested parties,” charging that DuPont acted repeatedly to hide or play down questions of the Teflon chemical’s toxicity.

Thayer noted:

  • DuPont claims now to welcome regulation, but just three years ago DuPont went to court seeking a secret gag order that would have prevented an attorney from speaking at a public meeting because it presented “great potential for intense media coverage of issues relevant to PFOA.”
  • DuPont corporate executives quietly considered a plan almost twenty years ago to eliminate air and water releases of a toxic, highly persistent chemical after secret company tests found contaminated tap water in two communities near the West Virginia plant that used the compound to make Teflon. But instead of adopting a plan to stop off-plant pollution at its Teflon factory, estimated at 37,000 pounds per year in 1984, DuPont proceeded to more than double it, to 86,806 pounds per year in 1999.
  • Just one month ago, in April of 2003, a Judge in West Virginia found that in 2002, DuPont had destroyed scientific evidence relevant to ongoing litigation on PFOA brought by 3000 citizens of West Virginia and Ohio.

The revelation that the company shelved the pollution plan is particularly startling.

According to an internal company memorandum dated May 23, 1984, and marked “Personal & Confidential,” DuPont officials had concluded that the chemical “is moderately toxic” and “has an estimated biological half life of two years in human blood.” Officials said that the Teflon chemical did not pose a health hazard at low levels, but they also agreed that the costs of eliminating the contamination would be small in the context of DuPont’s overall operations.

“There was a consensus reached that the issue which will decide future action is one of corporate image, and corporate liability,” the memorandum says. “Liability was further defined as the incremental liability from this point on if we do nothing as we are already liable for the past 32 years of operation. Corporate image discussion centered around the perceived diligence versus our policies if we elected to stop work” the memorandum says. [Excerpt | Full document]

The memo summarized a May 22, 1984 meeting of at least eleven DuPont officials in Wilmington, Delaware, the company’s corporate headquarters. According to the memo:

“Looking ahead, legal and medical will most likely take a position of total elimination. They have no incentive to take any other position. The product group will take a position that the business cannot afford it. The end result, in my opinion, will be that we eliminate all C-8 emissions at our manufacturing sites in a way yet to be developed which does not economically penalize the business, and addresses the C-8 emission and exposures of our dispersion customers.”

The memorandum then reads:

“Some information which we just developed 5/21/84 is that detectible [sic] levels of C-8 are in both the Lubeck, W.V. and the Little Hocking, Ohio water systems. We should have more quantitative numbers in the next two weeks.”

The test results were kept secret from the two communities and state regulators for nearly two decades. EPA was never informed by DuPont of the tap water contamination or the company’s internal debate about eliminating all C-8 emissions.

Citing the memorandum and related materials that became public through an ongoing class action lawsuit against DuPont in West Virginia, the Environmental Working Group petitioned EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in April 2003, charging DuPont with a violation of federal law for failing to report both the results of tap water testing and a human birth defect study to the agency in 1984 and 1981, respectively. [EWG petition | EWG analysis] The petition is under review by the agency.

DuPont’s internal discussions about eliminating C-8 pollution show that the company perceived the test results as highly significant, and further supports the charge that the company violated federal law by not divulging these tests to the Agency.

“DuPont has known since at least 1996 how to produce Teflon without using this toxic chemical, but it instead just boosted production – and pollution,” said Thayer. “It’s an outrageous pattern of behavior that has resulted in the further contamination of the blood of practically every American.”

Thayer’s group, EWG, has posted the relevant documents on links from the lead item on its home page, www.ewg.org.

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