EPA released its risk assessment for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) last week, but it called for more research into PFOA’s effects on human health before deciding whether stricter regulations are warranted.
Manufacturers and other groups that have studied PFOA will be required, through “enforceable consent agreements,” to submit any additional health effects data on an expedited schedule. The agency will then perform another risk assessment that will be peer reviewed by a science advisory panel later this year.
PFOA, sometimes called C-8, is used by DuPont to manufacture Teflon, as well as in electronics and other industrial applications. But it has been linked to developmental and other health effects, according to the agency’s risk assessment. DuPont says studies have proven that the compound is not a risk to human health (CW, April 2/9, p. 51).
EPA says it is concerned because much of the population has been exposed to low levels of PFOA, and because the chemical does not appear to break down in the environment. “To ensure consumers are protected from any potential risks, the agency will be conducting it’s most extensive scientific assessment ever undertaken on this type of chemical,” says Stephen Johnson, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxics. The agency is collecting additional information because new laboratory studies recently evaluated by EPA show that PFOA may cause developmental toxicity and other health effects, he says.
EPA has not determined if PFOA is an unreasonable risk to the public, but the agency says it does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer or industrial-related PFOA products. EPA is not certain how the general population is exposed to PFOA. The chemical “may be released during manufacturing or processing, and it may also be formed during the environmental breakdown of certain other fluorinated compounds known as telomers,” EPA says.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG; Washington), meanwhile, has asked EPA to investigate DuPont for not submitting PFOA worker exposure information to EPA. EWG says that a 1981 document shows that two of seven women who worked with PFOA while pregnant had a child born with birth defects. The document was obtained as part of a lawsuit filed by 3,000 residents who lived near DuPont’s fluoropolymers facility in Parkersburg, WV, EWG says.
EWG says the failure to submit the information to EPA is a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, an allegation DuPont refutes. “There is no evidence or data that demonstrates PFOA causes adverse human health effects, including developmental or reproductive effects, in any segment of the human population,” says DuPont toxicologist Robert Rickard.
DuPont says the information referenced by EWG is an informal recording of the presence of low levels of PFOA in blood samples taken from female employees in or near the Parkersburg site in the early 1980s. “Although the information records one confirmed birth defect there is no indication that it was caused by exposure to PFOA,” says DuPont.