EPA, DuPont Agree to Virtually Eliminate Perfluorinated Chemicals by 2015

This is one of those days when the Environmental Protection Agency is at its best.

With its announcement today, the EPA is challenging an entire industry to err on the side of precaution and public safety and invent new ways of doing business, with the goal of safeguarding human health and the environment against the potentially significant risks posed by a family of perfluorinated chemicals that are indestructible in the environment, toxic and contaminate all of us.

We commend the professional staff and leadership at EPA for forging a stewardship agreement with major companies that will, if properly implemented, dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, pollution associated with the chemical known as PFOA, and related chemicals that break down to become PFOA and similar substances. These toxic chemicals pose numerous health risks, are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, and have already found their way into the blood of people worldwide, including most Americans. Indeed, just this past summer, laboratory tests EWG commissioned found that many of these chemicals reach American babies while they are still in the womb.

We also commend individuals like the Bailey family of Virginia and communities like Little Hocking, Ohio, who at various times have had the courage to stand up in public to raise health concerns about these chemicals. Today's announcement holds the bittersweet promise that, going forward, we can hope for less pollution and less damage to human health from these chemicals.

These chemicals, made by a number of companies, are also the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry that provides consumers with products that repel water and grease on clothes and food containers, prevent stains on carpets and fabrics, and keep food from sticking to pots and pans. It is our hope that with this agreement, the value of these products, and the jobs associated with them, will be retained, but the pollution will end.

EWG is concerned, and will remain vigilant, about some of the chemicals that may replace PFOA and other chemicals affected by this agreement in industrial processes and consumer products. Based on what we know now, their toxicity is lower, as is their propensity to end up in people. But some of these substances are very persistent, and it is our view they should be seen as an interim step along a path to truly clean, safe technologies.

As harshly as we have singled out DuPont for criticism for its past handling of PFOA pollution, today we want to single out and commend the company, and acknowledge its leadership going forward. We discern in this agreement the DuPont company at its best: forward looking, environmentally sensitive, setting the pace for a cleaner chemical industry, and committed to applying its formidable powers of invention to eliminate pollution from this family of chemicals where they can, and severely restrict it everywhere else. Eventually, we hope DuPont and other companies will find ways to operate without the use of persistent toxic chemicals altogether.

The Environmental Working Group is on record as supporting a ban on PFOA and related substances that are similarly persistent, toxic, and end up in people. We continue to believe that a PFOA ban is needed. No one should confuse the agreement announced today with a ban. It is not a ban.

To ask why the government push for industry-wide elimination and control of these pollutants is happening now is to lament that these actions were not taken many years ago, before these companies polluted the farthest reaches of the biosphere with PFOA and related compounds. There are two reasons.

First, it is happening now because, from a technological standpoint, the EPA and the companies involved believe they can make it happen. Companies can embrace cleaner production and remain profitable—and the race is on to see which companies can bring the cleanest technologies to the marketplace.

Second, the public is making clear to policymakers and in the marketplace that they do not want toxic industrial chemicals in their bodies. They do not want toxic chemicals emitted into the environment as industrial pollutants. They do not want to be contaminated by toxic chemicals in consumer products.

For this agreement to work, it must be completely transparent. Scientists and regulators in the United States, and globally, must be able to track trends in emissions and product content. And the agreement must be global, embraced by every company in the industry worldwide.

EWG's research and advocacy on PFOA and related chemicals have focused on DuPont and 3M, but many other companies have been, or remain, engaged in the production of these substances. Our advice to companies and consumers is do not do business with any company that makes these chemicals if they have not signed this agreement. And press any company you do business with, or whose products you buy, to eliminate or severely reduce the use of these chemicals as soon as possible.

Finally, we hope that no one will conclude that this agreement proves that our current system for regulating industrial chemicals works, because it proves just the opposite. It proves we have learned very little since we banned DDT and PCBs a generation ago, chemicals far less persistent, less ubiquitous in the environment, and quite likely less toxic than PFOA. The controlling law for these chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act, has left government regulators toothless, purblind, and overly dependent on volunteerism since it was first passed, in 1976. It is the only major modern environmental law that has not been comprehensively reauthorized since its original passage.

We offer the unfolding saga of perfluorinated chemical pollution, including the hopeful chapter opened today, as exhibit number one in the case for enacting the Kids Safe Chemical Act introduced last year by Senators Lautenberg and Jeffords in the Senate, and by Representatives Waxman and Slaughter in the House.


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

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