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EWG TSCA 8(e) Petition: EPA probes DuPont birth defect study

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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, April 11, 2003

Results Show Teflon Chemical in Babies’ Blood

EWG Alleges Serious Violation of Federal Law, Seeks Federal Investigation

Washington, April 11, 2003 — The Environmental Working Group (EWG) alleged today that the DuPont chemical company has violated federal law by withholding from the government for the last 22 years a company study that detected a toxic, Teflon-related chemical in the umbilical cord blood of one infant born to a company worker, and in the blood of another worker’s baby. The same internal company research also records serious birth defects in two of seven babies born to a group of female Teflon plant workers, whose pregnancies were monitored by DuPont’s medical staff. In the same year, female workers were transferred out of DuPont's Teflon production facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia, out of concern for their exposure to the chemical, known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

EWG is petitioning US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to investigate DuPont for withholding the study from the Agency and is asking her to fine the company if it broke federal law. The study, which has never been submitted to EPA, became public only last year as the result of a class action lawsuit brought by 3,000 West Virginians living near the DuPont plant. They allege that PFOA pollution from the facility contaminates local tap water and threatens health.

The EWG petition comes on the eve of an EPA announcement that is expected to require expedited health studies and chemical data on PFOA from DuPont and other manufacturers — and similar information from companies that produce other members of the family of chemicals called “perfluorochemicals” (PFCs). EPA officials have expressed mounting concern over PFOA because it has been found to contaminate human blood pervasively and does not appear to break down in the environment. In 2000, EPA forced a chemical cousin of PFOA off the market. Known as PFOS, it was the original chemical ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard products. PFOS has also been found almost universally in human blood, does not decay in the environment and is considered toxic.

“We suspect, but cannot prove at this point, that DuPont has been deliberately withholding this information to avoid EPA action against PFOA and its highly profitable Teflon product line,” said EWG Vice President of Research Jane Houlihan. “This constitutes a serious violation of federal law that requires companies to report immediately any evidence they uncover that a chemical may pose a substantial health risk. More than 20 years too late, we now know that this Teflon chemical is in the blood of virtually every American. The EPA has belatedly concluded that it presents serious human health risks, in particular to women and their children.”

DuPont could face civil and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 a day if it is found in violation of Section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which gives companies 15 days to disclose any evidence that a chemical poses a substantial health risk. EWG also alleges that DuPont suppressed company tests conducted as early as 1984 that found PFOA contamination in the tap water of Lubeck, West Virginia and Little Hocking, Ohio — the two communities near the plant.

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EWG is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The Group has published the first, comprehensive report on the PFC family of global contaminants at www.ewg.org.