PARKERSBURG. Public statements by local DuPont officials regarding the outcome of employee health studies were misleading, according to some members of the company’s own Epidemiology Review Advisory Board.
DuPont says exposure to ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as PFOA or C8, does not pose a health risk to the general public. A small increase in lipids was associated with employees who worked with the substance, but it is not known if C8 was the cause, according to DuPont public affairs spokesman Dan Turner.
However, in confidential e-mails recently made public in conjunction with a federal lawsuit over PFOA discharge from DuPont’s Chamber Works in Salem County, N.J., members of DuPont’s Epidemiology Review Advisory Board questioned the way the company described the findings.
Four members of the board agreed a company letter to employees, which contained findings released to the public, “was somewhere between misleading and disingenuous.”
DuPont maintains “occupational exposure to PFOA has been associated with a small increase in lipids (e.g. cholesterol). It is not known whether this is a causal association. Community exposure has not been associated with any of these changes. To date, there are no human health effects known to be caused by PFOA, although study of the chemical continues. Based on health and toxicological studies, DuPont believes the weight of evidence indicates that PFOA exposure does not pose a health risk to the general public,” according to Turner.
The Washington, W.Va., Works plant south of Parkersburg has been using C8 since the 1950s. The chemical is used to make Teflon and other nonstick products and was the subject of a class action lawsuit against the plant.
“We work with the Epidemiology Review Advisory Board to incorporate their comments into our final conclusions, and the public statements we have made regarding PFOA (C8) and human health are consistent with the conclusions and findings of those studies,” Robin Ollis, with external affairs at Washington Works, said Tuesday.
Ollis said the recently released e-mails “are what they are.”
Turner said the board members “reviewed and approved the results and conclusions” of the company’s studies.
“The public statements DuPont has made on PFOA and human health are consistent with our studies, as well as the weight of evidence of other studies reported in peer-reviewed journals,” he said.
Some members of the review board apparently felt the company’s earlier public statements regarding the employee health studies were misleading.
In January 2005, DuPont officials announced during a press conference an initial health study of more than 1,000 DuPont Washington Works employees showed some increase in total cholesterol, triglycerides, uric acid and iron among workers with the highest blood levels of C8. DuPont officials said the tests showed no correlation between C8 levels and liver functions, blood counts or cancer markers. At that time, Dr. Sol Sax, DuPont’s chief medical officer, presented the findings.
At that same press conference, Robert W. Rickard, science director of Haskell Laboratory for Health and Environmental Sciences, said data showed no human health effects known to be caused by PFOA.
The study data did not indicate whether PFOA was the cause of the increases in serum cholesterol and triglycerides. The study found no association with PFOA blood levels, including no correlation between liver function and exposure to PFOA; no correlation between blood counts and exposure; no correlation between any cancer markers measured and exposure to PFOA with respect to prostate cancer, leukemia or multiple myeloma, according to the information released at that time.
In October 2006, DuPont held another press conference to release the results of the second phase of its worker study in which researchers tried to determine whether C8 exposure was linked to worker fatality rates. According to the information released to the public, there was “no increased mortality in workers exposed to PFOA.”
According to the e-mails, Noah Seixas of the University of Washington, was “a bit shocked” by DuPont’s press statements. David Wegman of the University of Massachusetts was “quite uncomfortable” with the way the company described the findings.
“We were unanimous in believing that the results do show a health effect,” a February 2005 e- mail from Wegman stated.
In another e-mail, Wegman said elevated cholesterol level “is certainly a health effect” and that study data actually showed “significantly elevated values” for cholesterol among workers with all levels of C8 exposure.
“We believe that no party can claim sufficient knowledge that PFOA does or does not post any risk to health,” board members wrote in a March 2006 e-mail to DuPont officials. “Thus, we question the basis of DuPont’s public expression asserting that PFOA does not pose a risk to health.”
In July 2006, Seixas wrote the study “continues to attempt to avoid or downplay the significant findings. I think the level of evidence produced is fairly substantial. Whether or not this is a major health effect I guess is a matter of interpretation.”
Jonathan Samet, a board member from Johns Hopkins, wrote the press release was “troubling in part because Sax’s statement is overly certain.”
In October 2006, Wegman wrote an e-mail stating: “There is some comfort from the fact that the information, however well hidden, is present about the adverse findings. But the release certainly appears written to leave the impression don’t worry and I guess we had to expect that.”
Copyright © 2007 The Marietta Times