A national environmental research group on Wednesday urged Gov. Bob Wise to appoint an independent team to investigate chemical pollution from the DuPont Co. plant in Wood County. The Environmental Working Group said that a panel that previously reviewed the chemical C8 was tainted because of its ties to DuPont and the chemical industry in general.
“West Virginia is the first governmental entity to set a standard of any kind for a perfluorinated compound, and for that the state is to be commended,” wrote Kenneth A. Cook, president of the group. “But the West Virginia standard will not be the last, and it would be regrettable if the state’s work came to be seen over time as tainted by industry influence.” C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate, which is part of a family of substances called perfluorinated chemicals.
At its Washington Works plant in Wood County, DuPont has used C8 since 1951 to make polymers that are used in the production of Teflon.
For years, C8 and DuPont’s emissions of it have been basically unregulated. But last year, federal officials launched a priority review of the chemical, because of growing concerns about human health effects.
In his letter to Wise, Cook noted that the top two Department of Environmental Protection officials, Acting Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer and General Counsel Joseph Dawley, both worked for the law firm Spilman Thomas & Battle and represented DuPont in a November 2001 C8 consent order with DEP.
Timmermeyer and Dawley have both recused themselves from C8 issues at DEP. But Cook said that is not enough, because “there are equally serious conflicts of interest apparent” on a team former DEP Secretary Michael Callaghan appointed to establish C8 limits. Two of the team members were employed by DuPont, Cook said, and three others by an industry consulting firm, TERA.
A sixth member of the 10-person team was DEP science adviser Dee Ann Staats. Cook wrote that Staats “made a career as an expert witness testifying against the concerns of communities fighting chemical and oil company pollution prior to coming to work for the state of West Virginia.”
Cook wrote that the panel “produced a C8 drinking water guideline based on an extreme and highly selective review of the science.
“In the process, safety margins traditionally used to protect the public from drinking water contaminants were not applied, the extreme persistence of C8 was ignored, and the public and independent scientists had no input into the process,” Cook wrote.
Amy Shuler Goodwin, Wise’s press secretary, said that the governor was satisfied with DEP’s actions on the C8 issue.
“We feel confident that DEP is handling the situation,” Goodwin said.
Perry McDaniel, chief of the DEP Office of Legal Services, said that the Environmental Working Group’s letter was an “unfair attack on our agency.”
McDaniel said that questions about ties between DuPont, Timmermeyer and Dawley are “old news.”
“Stephanie Timmermeyer has been with this agency since December 2001, and Joe Dawley since August 2002,” McDaniel wrote. “They haven’t had a role in the agency’s handling of C8 and they never will.”
McDaniel said that criticism of the consultants from TERA was unfair, because the firm does most of its work for EPA.