Letter to the West Virginia DEP Regarding PFOA

Letter to the West Virginia DEP Regarding PFOA

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


The following is the text of the letter written to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection stating EWG's findings:

November 12, 2002

Mr. Michael Callaghan
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
1356 Hansford Street
Charleston, WV 25301

Dear Secretary Callaghan:

Contamination of drinking water supplies by the toxic industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, or C8) is a continuing concern to the residents of Parkersburg and surrounding areas of Wood County near the source of the pollution, DuPont’s manufacturing operation in Washington, West Virginia.

As part of an ongoing assessment of human health and environmental risks posed by C8 and related compounds, researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined materials on the subject prepared by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and presented by agency staff at several public meetings last summer. Our focus was on the science behind DEP’s work and the conclusions the Department presented to Wood County residents who have been exposed to C8 pollution from the DuPont Plant.

EWG’s over–arching conclusion is that the DEP’s assessment is seriously flawed in numerous crucial — and often very basic aspects of C8 science and toxicity. Our review of the science available at the time of the briefings shows that the presentations made by the DEP did not accurately represent what was then known about C8 toxicity. These shortcomings are compounded by the DEP’s misinterpretation and misapplication of standard procedures for establishing drinking water screening levels and contaminant limits.

Last July, in the context of a controversy surrounding a review undertaken by DEP on the hazards posed by C8 contamination in the state, you stated:

“If there is any reasonable question about the science behind the DEP’s work, I welcome the input. Constructive criticism of a process or result is part of science and it is our intent to assure citizens of Wood County that the work done regarding C8 has been accurate and reliable.” (The Charleston Gazette, July 5, 2002)

We have five major concerns with the scientific conclusions and statements made by the DEP at these public meetings. Each of them is explained in greater detail and fully referenced in the attached review by Dr. Kristina Thayer of our staff. Specifically:

  1. DEP materials assert that C8 does not cause developmental and reproductive effects or present a long–term risk to people who drink it in their tap water. This contention is not supported by industry studies of C8 toxicity and is contradicted by high–ranking scientists and officials at US Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. The DEP concludes that tumors caused by C8 in animals are irrelevant to humans. The US EPA, in contrast, considers C8 to be carcinogenic — causing liver, pancreatic, testicular, and mammary gland tumors. In company documents, DuPont scientists assert that the testicular and pancreatic tumors found in animals could be relevant to humans.
  3. The DEP fails to account for documented food and air exposures to C8 when setting the drinking water contaminant limit, and then fails to tell the public of this omission, even though it constitutes a major deviation from standard US EPA protocols. Assuming that water is the only source of exposure is a one big reason that the DEP arrived at a drinking water screening level that allows between 15 and 100 times more C8 in tap water than would be normally permitted. In addition, the DEP did not account for bottle fed infants and children, who are likely more susceptible to the toxic effects of C8 and who certainly get a higher dose relative to their size than an adult when drinking a liter of C8 contaminated water.
  4. DEP’s public presentation materials assert that the allowable amount of C8 contamination in drinking water is between 10 and 100 times more protective than it actually is. If DEP staff had actually applied the safety factors they describe at the community meetings, the screening level for C8 in drinking water would be between 1.5 and 15 parts per billion (ppb), not 150 ppb.
  5. The DEP review concludes that the allowable dose of C8 (the reference dose, or RfD) is five times more protective than that for the average chemical. It is not. The reference dose for C8 is five times lower (more stringent) than the average RfD because C8 is five times more toxic than the average chemical. The amount of protection provided by the C8 reference dose is equivalent to, or less than (see below) that provided for the average compound.

Overall, in every important matter of scientific assessment and regulatory judgment, the DEP appears consistently to have come down on the side of being less protective of human health and the environment in Wood County — and highly favorable to the polluting company, DuPont.

This tilt not only does a serious disservice to affected West Virginians, but is also in marked contrast to the evolving regulatory posture towards C8 at US EPA. On September 27, the agency initiated a rare, priority review of C8 out of concern about its developmental and reproductive effects, and because “additional blood sample analysis data indicate low level exposures to the general population that are unexplained at this time.”

Significantly, the EPA’s motivating concern is with risks to the general U.S. population, where the potential for exposure is generally much lower than for West Virginian’s whose drinking water supplies have been directly contaminated with C8 from manufacturing and disposal operations.

The studies that instigated US EPA’s priority review were available to DEP well in advance of your agency’s public presentations earlier this year. A perfunctory review of industry documents on file with the agency would have yielded facts and scientific conclusions very much at odds with the “science behind DEP’s work” on C8.

EWG is aware of, but has not been party to, the controversy surrounding the DEP’s review of C8, specifically the procedures followed by the department’s Science Advisor Dee Ann Staats, and her decision to include DuPont personnel on the DEP review panel. We are at a loss to explain how the weight of evidence readily available from EPA and published sources about the serious risks of C8 could differ so dramatically from the conclusions the DEP reached, and the reassurances it communicated to the people of Wood County.

In order to remove even the appearance of bias in the DEP process, if for no other reason, we urge you to impanel another, impartial group of scientists, excluding industry–affiliated experts, to re–review C8 science and the pertinent application of drinking water regulation to the contamination problems in Wood County. It is our judgment that such a review would result in much stronger regulatory action against C8, and vastly stricter protection for West Virginians whose tap water was once pure, but is now contaminated by a dangerous industrial chemical.


Richard Wiles
Senior Vice President