In June 1984, officials from DuPont Co. put together a list of sampling results from drinking water near the company’s Parkersburg chemical plant. The list, called “Update on C8 in water samples,” was marked “personal and confidential.”
A March sample from Washington showed 1.2 parts per billion. A June sample from Lubeck found 1.5 parts per billion.
Over the next few years, DuPont found similar concentrations of C8, a chemical it had used for decades to make Teflon products, in water supplies downstream from its Washington Works plant.
Along the way, in June 1991, DuPont had adopted a “Community Exposure Guideline” for C8 of 1.0 parts per billion. This guideline was set at the level “expected to be without any effect” on people who are exposed.
Now, after years of inaction, federal regulators have filed a major new pollution suit against DuPont, in part over these test results.
The information at issue was not reported to EPA until a lawyer representing Parkersburg-area residents did so in March 2001.
DuPont has denied the allegations, and plans to fight the complaint and any monetary penalties that EPA eventually seeks.
“DuPont has provided substantial information to EPA supporting our conclusion that we have followed the law,” said company lawyer Stacey Mobley. “We will take action to respond to the agency’s complaint and will vigorously defend our position.’
C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate, and is also known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
At its Washington Works plant, Dupont has used C8 for more than 50 years in the production of Teflon.
For years, C8 — and DuPont’s emissions of it — have been basically unregulated. But in the past few years, the chemical has come under increasing scrutiny.
In a class-action lawsuit, thousands of neighbors of DuPont’s Washington plant allege that the company poisoned their air and drinking water with harmful levels of C8.
Trial in Wood Circuit Court is scheduled to begin in late September.
In September 2002, the EPA launched a “priority review” of C8 in response to studies that linked the chemical to developmental and reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The EPA repeatedly has delayed the release of results of that review.
Previously, DuPont has survived two regulatory reviews of C8 without major restrictions on its use or emissions of the chemicals.
In December 1996, DuPont agreed to pay $200,000 in fines and upgrade its Dry Run Landfill to resolve complaints that pollution from the dump was killing area cattle and deer.
In November 2001, the Wise administration agreed to form a team that included DuPont representatives to study C8 and decide how much exposure is safe. Since then, the DEP has issued a series of reports stating that current levels of C8 exposure from the Parkersburg plant are not harmful.
This time, EPA said that it “is not proposing a specific [monetary] penalty at this time, but will do so at a later date.”
The EPA complaint, filed under the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, gives DuPont 30 days to respond. The company can request a formal hearing to contest the allegations, or it can ask for an “informal settlement conference” with EPA officials.
Under federal law, DuPont could be fined more than $300 million for the toxics reporting and hazardous waste violations cited in the EPA administrative complaint.
Last year, DuPont reported $973 million in profits on $27 billion in sales, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which pushed for EPA to file the complaint, blasted the Bush administration for not immediately seeking a hefty fine.
“This is shaping up as another in a long series of industry-friendly environmental ‘enforcement’ actions by the Bush EPA,” said group President Ken Cook. “This time, DuPont was caught in three serious violations of federal pollution laws. In the Bush administration, that automatically triggers the ‘three strikes and we’ll talk’ policy.”
Just days before issuing the complaint, EPA officials had told West Virginia regulators that they would seek “tens of millions of dollars” in fines.
“Everybody thought DuPont was in hot water with the Bush EPA, but instead it looks like they’re sitting in the Jacuzzi,” Cook said in a prepared statement.
When they filed the suit against DuPont on July 8, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials alleged that the chemical giant has caused “widespread contamination” of drinking-water supplies near its Parkersburg plant.
EPA officials also alleged that this pollution has created a “substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.”
In doing so, EPA has for the first time agreed with Wood County residents who contend that DuPont has poisoned their water with its controversial chemical.
EPA also threw its support behind charges that DuPont for more than 20 years hid key information about the dangers of C8 from the government and the public.
In a 31-page complaint, EPA said that DuPont “fails or refuses to recognize that its C8 contamination in public drinking water is ongoing, that C8 contamination extends into people’s homes, and that DuPont had never informed [EPA] of levels of C8 contamination of drinking water greater than three times higher than DuPont’s” own limits.
Specifically, EPA officials allege that DuPont never told the government that it had water tests that showed C8 in residential supplies in concentrations greater than the company’s internal limit.
Also, EPA alleges that DuPont withheld for more than 20 years the results of a test that showed that at least one pregnant worker from the Parkersburg plant had transferred the chemical from her body to her fetus.
That information, EPA said, supported animal tests that showed that C8 “moves across the placental barrier.” EPA said that agency efforts to understand C8’s health effects “might have been more expeditious” if DuPont had submitted the human test results back in 1981.
Further, EPA alleges that DuPont did not provide EPA with this information, even after the agency requested it under the terms of the company’s hazardous waste permit.