California’s governor has vetoed a bill that would have banned a DuPont-made chemical in food packaging in that state.
Instead, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this week signed a pair of bills backed by the chemical industry that establish a regulatory framework for chemicals that are potentially hazardous to human health.
State legislators had approved a bill that would have limited the amount of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in stain- and grease-proof items like fast-food wrappers to no more than 10 parts per billion by 2010.
But Schwarzenegger, in a veto statement, said he did not think a “chemical-by-chemical, product-by-product approach” was an effective way to make state policy.
“I prefer a more systematic, science-based approach that would take into account the health effects, risks, and available alternatives for chemicals used in commerce today,” the governor said.
The “green chemistry” initiatives that Schwarzenegger signed into law could lead to a ban of chemicals in household items that are determined to have harmful health effects. Schwarzenegger said PFOA and PFOS, the perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, targeted in the vetoed bill, should be reviewed under the new state program.
PFOA, also known as C8, is used in the production of DuPont’s nonstick coating Teflon and other products. The chemical is not used to make grease-resistant coatings for food packaging, like DuPont’s Zonyl line of products, but it shows up in trace amounts as a byproduct.
DuPont has faced a series of lawsuits targeting PFOA, amid fears that the long-lived chemical can cause cancer or other health problems. DuPont, the only U.S. manufacturer of PFOA, is one of eight companies participating in an EPA program to phase out the use of the chemical by 2015, although the company says evidence indicates that PFOA exposure does not pose a health risk to the general public.
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement the union was “outraged” that Schwarzenegger bowed to pressure from DuPont and the chemical industry, which lobbied against the bill. Gerard called the veto a “slap in the face” to workers at DuPont plants who have shown higher levels of PFOA in their blood than the general public.
The union represents about 1,600 DuPont workers, including about 500 workers at Chambers Works, DuPont’s plant in Deepwater, N.J., at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
“Industry wanted to derail the regulatory process because it no longer holds the scientific evidence in its favor,” Gerard said.
Bill Walker, a vice president for the Environmental Working Group, said his organization agreed with the need for comprehensive chemical reform. The bills signed by Schwarzenegger, though, do not establish a safety standard or public health goal for chemicals of concern or their prospective substitutes, he said.
“They provide a statutory shield for chemical companies who want to delay health protections and preserve the status quo while bureaucrats ponder the problem,” Walker said.
DuPont had criticized the PFOA bill for setting poorly defined standards for replacement products, establishing an unrealistic time frame and ignoring the opinions of federal and state regulators that approved the food-packaging products for public use.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said the governor took the right approach in vetoing the PFOA bill and establishing the new chemical review initiative.