WASHINGTON, February 6, 2009 – The Charleston Gazette reports today that in the last weeks of the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly handed DuPont Co. a three-year extension to complete tests mandated by a 2005 legal settlement on a toxic DuPont product.
In a December 2005 settlement with EPA, DuPont agreed to pay $10.25 million in fines, spend $6.25 million for environmental projects and conduct tests to determine whether a toxic chemical known as C8 or PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) leaches out of common household items like carpet, clothing and food packaging. The chemical has been used in the manufacture of a wide variety of consumer products treated for stain, grease and water resistance under brand names like Teflon and Goretex.
The chemical company was supposed to have the studies concluded by December 27, 2008. But, as the Gazette has reported, in late December, DuPont and EPA lawyers filed a joint motion agreeing to extend the deadline for completing tests to December 2011.
“This last-minute gift to DuPont by Mr. Bush comes as no surprise,” said Jane Houlihan, Environmental Working Group (EWG) Vice President for Research. “When studies by independent scientists have shown serious health risks from PFOA exposure, it’s hard to accept at face value DuPont’s claim that it needs more time to run basic tests for PFOA, even though the company has used the chemical for stain and grease-proof coatings of common household products for decades.”
“The failure of DuPont and the EPA to conduct these tests is just another in a long list of reasons Congress and the Obama administration must enact the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act,” Houlihan said. “The chemical industry must be required to test its products for safety before they’re allowed onto the market, where they come into daily contact with children and other vulnerable populations.”
A nationwide biomonitoring study conducted by a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the November 2007 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives found that PFOA, an extraordinarily persistent chemical, contaminates the bodies of 99.7 percent of the U.S. population. The EPA’s Science Advisory Board has listed PFOA as a likely human carcinogen. People can be exposed to the toxic chemical by, among other things, food packaging, stain-proof coatings on furniture and carpet and contaminated food and tap water. In January 2006, under pressure from EPA and the public, including EWG and other environmental health groups, DuPont and seven other major manufacturers agreed to phase out use of PFOA in consumer products by 2015.
The settlement arose out of an EPA enforcement action filed in July 2004, [Open Document] charging that DuPont illegally withheld company studies dating from 1981 that showed that PFOA posed a “substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment,” including birth defects.
“The new delay suggests that DuPont is successfully pursuing a strategy to avoid turning a spotlight on its long history of contamination of workers, consumer products and the environment,” Houlihan said. “So long as the data on PFOA leaching are not generated and made known to the public, the company can continue to deny its responsibility for the potential health risks from legacy pollutants in common household products purchased in past decades and still present in homes across the country.”
A June EWG research report, “Credibility Gap: Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging and DuPont’s Greenwashing” found, among other things, that despite agreeing to phase out PFOA, DuPont and other makers of perfluorinated chemicals continue to maintain that it is safe.
Polyfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA, are widely used as water, stain and grease repellants for food wrap, carpet, furniture, and clothing that have been detected in adults, newborns, and wildlife all around the globe. They persist in the body for decades, acting through a broad range of toxic mechanisms to present potential harm to a wide range of organs. EWG’s work has resulted in an international phase-out effort and court victories against major manufacturers.
In a study of 324 residents of Little Hocking, Ohio, a community whose tap water is contaminated with PFOA from the nearby DuPont facility in Parkersburg, WV, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that PFOA concentrates in human blood, with median accumulations 105 times the chemical’s level in tap water. Such intense concentrations are suspected of contributing to chronic health problems.
A major new study published last month in Human Reproduction, a European reproductive medicine journal, found that women with elevated levels of PFOA in their blood were twice as likely to be diagnosed with infertility as women with lower body burdens of PFOA.
“President Obama and his team have their hands full unraveling and reversing the industry giveaways orchestrated by Mr. Bush and his cronies in their final days in power,” Houlihan added.
U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) has indicated he plans to re-introduce his Kid-Safe Chemicals Act in the coming weeks, and has promised to push for hearings and a vote on the bill this year.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.