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NC Panel OKs Toxic Teflon Chemical in Drinking Water

202-667-6982
alex@ewg.org
For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Washington, D.C. –North Carolinians could be exposed to much higher concentrations of a notorious Teflon chemical than the rest of the country under a proposed state regulation that would allow unsafe levels of the contaminant in drinking water, scientists at Environmental Working Group (EWG) warn.

The North Carolina Science Advisory Board on Toxic Air Pollutants (NCSAB) recently recommended setting a Maximum Allowable Concentration, or MAC, for the extremely toxic and persistent contaminant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in groundwater. The proposed MAC for lifetime exposure is 3 to 5 times less protective than contamination limits in other states where PFOA pollutes drinking water.

In West Virginia, another state where DuPont has contaminated drinking water with PFOA, residents are provided with alternative drinking water when PFOA levels exceed 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). Under the weak standard (1.6 ppb) proposed in North Carolina, citizens would be allowed to drink 3 times as much PFOA as West Virginians. Minnesota has adopted a standard of 0.3 ppb, five times more protective than the North Carolina proposal.

Drinking tap water contaminated with PFOA is a serious health risk. The highest measured levels of PFOA in human blood in the US, other than factory exposures, are in people who have consumed PFOA contaminated tap water in West Virginia and Ohio. These people had PFOA levels in their blood 100 times higher than the levels found in the water, and far higher than the average person in the US.

The proposed MAC would allow PFOA to accumulate in the bodies of North Carolina residents to levels 20-to-40 times higher than those found in the general U.S. population.

While virtually every living thing carries some level of PFOA in their blood, it is often found at much higher concentrations in people living in areas where the chemical is manufactured. Fayetteville, N.C. is home to a DuPont PFOA production facility that is widely considered the primary source of the chemical in the area’s groundwater. The company began producing the chemical at the site in 2002, and shortly thereafter it was turning up in groundwater sampling in the area. The plant is in the Cape Fear River Basin, a drinking water source for communities along the 200-mile long river.

Due to PFOA’s widespread use in commerce and in manufacturing of everyday consumer products such as cookware, food packaging and clothing, as well as the chemical’s extraordinary persistence and toxicity, PFOA is now known as a pervasive global contaminant. It is slated to be eliminated from emissions and products by 2015 under an agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and eight major manufacturers, including DuPont.

In a letter to the NCSAB’s Reginald C. Jordan, Ph.D., EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., wrote:

“This regulatory scrutiny and phase-out of PFOA could not be timelier. As demonstrated by an extensive body of research, PFOA is linked to developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, alterations in the hormonal levels, metabolic disturbances and an elevated risk of cancer. It is laudable that, in the absence of the federal standard for PFOA in drinking water, state environmental health agencies have embarked on the process of developing their own standard for this toxic contaminant. Yet, long-term exposure to PFOA in drinking water in the concentration range proposed by the draft NCSAB recommendations would result in the pollutant building up in the body to levels at which adverse health effects are observed in human epidemiological studies.”

In her letter, Dr. Naidenko cited a number of studies embraced by top scientists throughout the world that have linked PFOA exposures -- at levels much lower than the state Science Advisory Board’s recommendation – with serious health problems in people. They include delayed pregnancy time, low sperm quality among young men, decreased levels of estrogen and cancer.

A PDF of Dr. Naidenko’s entire letter is attached to this release.

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