Poisoned Legacy

Ten Years Later, Chemical Safety and Justice for DuPont’s Teflon Victims Remain Elusive

May 1, 2015

Poisoned Legacy: Recommendations

Ten years after DuPont was caught withholding information about the health hazards of C8/PFOA, the people and communities of the mid-Ohio Valley are still waiting for the company to make good on its promises.

For almost 70 years, DuPont has been an important institution in the region. The Washington Works plant employs more than 2,000 people and is the hub of a cluster of plastics companies that have dubbed the Parkersburg area the Polymer Alliance Zone. Many of the company’s workers proudly call themselves “DuPonters.” (Lyons 2007) Yet DuPont has repaid the community by polluting its water, knowingly exposing workers to harmful compounds that are passed along from mother to child – and now, trying to minimize the compensation its must pay. This is hardly the behavior of a good corporate neighbor.

EWG supports the Keep Your Promises campaign to hold DuPont accountable. The company should make good on the terms of the class-action settlement – and go beyond it by cleaning up any area water supply contaminated with C8 at or above the EPA’s health advisory level. In the upcoming trial the company should admit its responsibility for harming more than 2,500 area residents and pay them damages determined by the jury. DuPont must also ensure that its spinoff of Chemours doesn’t jeopardize the cleanup and compensation in the mid-Ohio Valley or anywhere else where it has polluted the environment or people.

In light of the harm done by C8/PFOA, PFOS and similar substances, it is unacceptable that companies are putting new chemicals on the market that may be no safer. Fifty years from now, will documents be uncovered revealing that DuPont, 3M or other companies knew all along that the new generation of PFCs are also hazardous? EWG joins the call of the scientists who wrote and endorsed the Madrid Statement for governments to act swiftly to assess the dangers of the new chemicals and curb their use before it’s too late.

DuPont’s malfeasance and the marketing of new chemicals that are masked in secrecy amount to severe indictments of America’s broken chemical policy.

Stronger rules on disclosure of health studies and stronger penalties for failure to disclose them could have put more pressure on DuPont and 3M to tell regulators what they knew about the hazards of PFOA and PFOS. Why didn’t the companies come clean earlier? Because they knew they could get away with it – and in many ways they did. Stronger rules would also ensure that the EPA and the FDA can adequately assess the safety of PFC replacements and enable FDA to make better decisions about the chemicals that come into contact with food.

As Congress considers reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has not been updated in almost 40 years, EWG recommends these changes to effectively generate meaningful safety data and protect Americans from the hazards of  PFCs and all other dangerous chemicals:

  • EPA should have the authority to ban, restrict and phase out harmful chemicals without relying on voluntary agreements.
  • EPA should have authority to restrict or ban imported articles made with potentially hazardous PFCs or other chemicals.
  • Chemical companies should be required to prove that chemicals are safe before they are allowed on the market.
  • EPA should have the authority to require safety testing when the information provided by companies is inadequate.
  • All hazardous chemicals should be tracked from production to use and ultimate disposal, and the information must be made public.
  • Chemical companies should provide technologies to detect hazardous chemicals in the environment and people.