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EPA finds DuPont guilty of withholding Teflon blood and water pollution studies

EPA finds DuPont guilty of withholding Teflon blood and water pollution studies

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summary of Teflon-Related TSCA 8(e) Action Against DuPont

EPA finds DuPont guilty of withholding Teflon blood and water pollution studies

Company faces fines of up to $313 million

JULY 15, 2004 — In an extraordinary announcement on July 8, 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed the results of a year-long investigation into DuPont's failure to disclose to the agency internal company studies showing pollution of human fetal cord blood and local tap water with a toxic Teflon ingredient, known as C8 or PFOA. Acting on a petition filed by the Environmental Working Group, the Agency found that DuPont engaged in unlawful behavior on three separate counts of hiding critical study results in company file cabinets for up to 20 years.

EPA's legal action is all the more extraordinary when the scathing, no-holds-barred language of the agency's complaint is contrasted with the unwillingness of politically appointed agency higher-ups to announce a potential fine amount against the company. The amount, apparently, will be calculated at a later date, after the Agency begins "negotiations" with the company to determine the outlines of a possible out of court settlement.

But one can calculate the potential fine, based on the multi-year duration of the violation, and the maximum allowable fine per day under the law. The total is a staggering $313 million, which, if assessed, would be 10 times larger than the maximum fine ever assessed by the agency. Or, in an option that appears increasingly likely, the company could walk away with no more than a slap on the wrist, depending on the political will of the administration.

Breaking the law: A good business decision — so far. The story of how DuPont landed itself in the frying pan with EPA is one of deliberate corporate malfeasance made possible by gaping holes in the public health safety net for toxic chemicals. This loophole ridden system lets chemical companies decide what, if any, safety tests to perform, and when, if ever, to tell public health and environmental officials about the results.

The data withheld by DuPont for 20 years could very well have altered the destiny and profitability of Teflon and related products dramatically, had they been reported in 1981. EPA lawyers say as much in the agency's complaint against DuPont, noting that the EPA's current effort to characterize the risk from PFOA, "...might have been more expeditious had the data on transplacental movement of the chemical in humans been submitted immediately by DuPont when DuPont obtained the information in 1981." Instead, C8 did not come under regulatory scrutiny at the EPA until 2003, gaining DuPont more than two deades of multi-hundred million dollar annual profits, while guaranteeing contamination of the entire planet with Teflon chemicals, now recognized as persistent global pollutants that nearly universally pollute human blood.

Two decades of malfeasance. In the early 1980s DuPont scientists at the company's Parkersburg, West Virginia Teflon plant discovered startling evidence that a key Teflon ingredient had contaminated local drinking water supplies, and that babies of plant workers had a Teflon ingredient in their blood and were born with birth defects of the eyes and nostrils.

The studies sent the company scrambling as executives abruptly confronted the reality that a key ingredient in their signature Teflon product line was in human fetal cord blood and in every glass of tap water drawn in two local towns. Female workers were pulled from the production line, outside consultants were hired to find holes in the studies, and clandestine tap water testing programs were expanded to the next ring of surrounding communities.

But then, inexplicably and just as abruptly, the studies were scuttled. DuPont kept the troubling studies secret. Local communities were not told about the tap water contamination. Government officials were not notified. Women were allowed back on the production line. And over the next two decades, the documents and test results, stashed away in company filing cabinets, may have been forgotten by all but just a small group of company officials and scientists.

Now these studies have come back to haunt DuPont. In a local lawsuit over what was initially thought to be newly-discovered C8 contamination in tap water, the documents surfaced during discovery. And in early 2003 the Environmental Working Group began scouring the pages, piecing together the chain of events that in their entirety constitute a near 20-year cover-up at DuPont.

It became clear as we dug further into the evidence, that DuPont not only broke trust with local communities and employees, but also broke the law when it withheld from the government and the public the extraordinary findings in their tap water and birth defects studies.

On April 11 2003 the Environmental Working Group petitioned the EPA to investigate evidence that DuPont violated federal law in failing to report the data to the federal government under a provision of the Toxics Substances Control Act called section 8(e) that requires immediate reporting of finding that show a "substantial risk of injury to health or the environment."

Over one year later, on July 8 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency wrapped up its investigation of the charges, filing a complaint that finds DuPont guilty of breaking the law on three counts, and impeding the agency's ability to assess public health threats from a chemical in common use for 50 years. Such a safety assessment is only now being conducted in the form of an official agency review that EPA has touted as the most significant such review in the agency's history. DuPont, in the meantime, has garnered 20 years of profit from the sale of Teflon products, a line that nets them an estimated $200 million every year.

A system hardwired to fail. EPA's case against DuPont illustrates the fact that without strict enforcement of reporting requirements by the EPA, the current industry-driven system is bound to fail, particularly when highly profitable chemicals are on the line. Chemical companies have no incentive, and as this case shows, cannot be trusted to act in the public interest when it comes to reporting troubling test results on high profile, brand name products or their ingredients.

DuPont even failed to report these data during an amnesty period under the first Bush EPA in 1991. Recognizing that companies were almost certainly not reporting data as required under section 8(e) of TSCA, the first Bush EPA waived all fines and penalties for all adverse effects data on any chemical, if companies would willingly come forward with the data. DuPont still did not submit the data that are the subject of the EPA's complaint.

EPA findings against DuPont. The three counts EPA has laid out against DuPont are detailed below, referenced to the relevant paragraphs in EPA's complaint. The maximum fine that the Agency could assess for the three counts is $313 million. The calculations of fines associated with each count are detailed below, and are based on EPA's determinations on the duration of the violation, and the maximum allowable daily penalty under the law.

EPA Count 1 against DuPont: EPA found that DuPont violated federal law, Section 8(e) of the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), by failing to inform EPA about the company's Teflon ingredient polluting human cord blood. This provision of TSCA requires that a company notify the Administrator within 15 days of findings that support a reasonable conclusion of a substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment and carries a maximum penalty of $183.8 million. According to EPA:

"The Agency considers the human blood sampling information confirming transplacental movement of PFOA [the Teflon ingredient] to reasonably support the conclusion of a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment." (paragraph 47)

"DuPont's failure to immediate inform EPA about the information concerning [Teflon ingredient contaminating human cord blood] constitutes a violation of TSCA Section 8(e)..." (paragraph 46)

"DuPont's failure or refusal to submit the human blood sampling information as required under TSCA Section 8(e) is an unlawful act..." (paragraph 52)

The fine for this violation could total $183.8 million: