A draft EPA report has raised concerns about developmental and other health effects associated with perfluoro-chemicals, which are widely used in DuPont’s Teflon products, as well as electronics and aerospace applications. EPA’s Office of. Pollution Prevention and Toxics has been studying perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts following the discovery of unexpected bioaccumulative properties of a related chemical, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). 3M, which used PFOS extensively in its Scotchgard products, took it off the market in 2000 when it was discovered to be persistent in the environment (CW, April 11, 2001).
The EPA draft assessment could lead to stricter regulations for PFOA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA says it has data indicating that low levels of exposure to PFOA could be linked to developmental or reproductive toxicity. High doses of ammonium perfluorooctonate, called C-8 by DuPont, causes liver cancer and reproductive problems in rats. The agency says it is unclear how the general population is affected by PFOA, however.
DuPont says that the low levels of PFOA that the general population is exposed to do not cause health problems. “There is an extensive database of over 200 reports addressing all the major hazard end points,” says DuPont toxicologist Robert Rickard. “We have reviewed all of this data and there are no health effects associated with PFOA.”
EPA’s data also shows that women and girls tend to have more PFOA in their systems than men. This has drawn the attention of regulators who are concerned that the chemical could affect reproductive health. However, DuPont says that there is no indication that there is any difference in the way male or female humans are affected by PFOA.
The Environmental Working Group (Washington) has lobbied for PFOA to be taken off the market, and says it will release its own report on PFOA in several weeks. “PFOA never degrades, not in air, sunlight, water, or via microbes,” EWG says. “The draft EPA risk assessment is the first public indication that perfluorinated chemicals are fated to become even more notorious than DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls,” it says.