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Bush Moves to Okay Toxic Teflon Pollution in Tap Water

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, January 15, 2009

Washington, D.C. - January 15, 2009 - In its final days, the Bush administration appears poised to issue an emergency health advisory for tap water polluted with the toxic Teflon chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) effectively allowing a significant level of pollution and discouraging cleanup of PFOA contamination in tap water in at least 9 states, according to an analysis by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The level of permissible PFOA contamination under the administration’s guidance would be 10 times higher than that allowed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, whose commissioner, Lisa Jackson has been tapped by incoming President Obama to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If the Bush administration advisory is allowed to stand, it could result in blood levels of PFOA in people nearly 10 times higher than the current average amounts.

The millions of Americans who drink PFOA-contaminated water include residents of Washington, D.C., according to new tests commissioned by EWG. EWG’s tests are the first to find PFOA contamination in the city’s tap water.

An internal EPA document obtained by West Virginia journalist Ken Ward, Jr. and published yesterday on the Charleston Gazette website shows that EPA intends to defend its relatively weak Provisional Health Advisory as sufficient to protect people from harmful short-term exposures to PFOA. However, people who drink PFOA-contaminated tap water are exposed to this chemical day after day, year after year, and studies of communities with contaminated tap water show the chemical concentrates in human blood to levels 100 times higher than found in the water they drink. The proposed standard ignores this fact. The practical effect of this first-ever federal safety level would be to sanction long-term exposures at unsafe levels under the guise of a short term advisory.

EWG’s review of water pollution studies from available scientific literature and government dockets finds that PFOA pollutes tap water supplies in at least 9 states and the District of Columbia, including tap water consumed by Chicago residents and people served by 78 percent of water utilities tested by New Jersey authorities.

The full extent of PFOA contamination in water supplies nationally is not known. EPA does not require water utilities to test for PFOA. A lax Provisional Health Advisory, such as is now contemplated by EPA, would discourage the agency from setting a binding drinking water standard and requiring long-term national water testing for PFOA.

"Nobody should have to drink cancer-causing Teflon chemicals in their tap water," said EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles. "This is nothing more than a last-minute Bush administration bailout for PFOA polluters, okaying dangerous levels of this Teflon chemical.”

“With nearly the entire U.S. population, including young children, exposed to this chemical, it’s critical that EPA set standards to protect health,” added Wiles. “The practical effect of this guidance will be that millions of people are exposed to unsafe levels of a dangerous chemical in their tap water.”

A study of West Virginia communities surrounding DuPont’s Parkersburg facility, conducted by a team of independent scientists as a result of a class action settlement, shows that PFOA concentrates in human blood, building up to approximately 100 times the levels in tap water. EPA appears to have ignored the cumulative danger from PFOA -- a critical factor in chronic human health risks from long-term exposures to this chemical.

EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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