USW raises concerns over potentially dangerous chemical leaking into water supply from DuPont plant

On June 2, The United Steelworkers (USW), a union representing over 1,800 DuPont workers, criticized the company after it was disclosed last week that a potentially dangerous chemical used to make Teflon and manufactured at the company's plant in Fayetteville, N.C., has started showing up in the local groundwater and surface water.

The USW's own investigation has shown that the chemical known as ammonium perfluorooctanoic acid or C8, which is used to make Teflon, was discovered in the local groundwater and surface water at the Fayetteville plant in January 2003. However, DuPont did not report this information to the state environmental agency until six months later.

Furthermore, the USW has learned that the contaminated surface waters flow into the Cape Fear River, and DuPont failed for two years to provide any additional information about the contamination to the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. The USW believes that DuPont has not conducted additional testing to determine the source of the contamination or to fully assess the impact.

The USW is also questioning DuPont's assertions that "trace levels" of C8 found in groundwater and surface water samplings did not come from the C8 manufacturing process. The USW believes that no monitoring wells were installed near the C8 manufacturing building and no testing for C8 contamination had occurred there. The USW research also indicates that Dupont officials never fully explained why the contamination occurred only two or three months after DuPont began making C8 at the Fayetteville plant.

In addition to deep concerns about community health and safety, the USW underscored how DuPont's practices and the growing mistrust of Dupont may be jeopardizing jobs that are sorely needed in the manufacturing sector. In May, local newspapers revealed how a food processing company had shelved plans in Parkersburg, W. Va., to build a new plant, which would have employed 600 persons, due to concerns that the water supply may have been contaminated with C8 from a DuPont plant.

"We are concerned that DuPont may be endangering the health and jobs of our own members by not disclosing critical information and demonstrating an acceptable level of transparency and accountability," said Ken Test, USW region three director and chair of the union's DuPont Council. "Addressing problems on the front end, instead of trying to cover them up, is the best way to ensure the long term viability of DuPont's plants."

The Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Justice Department three weeks ago served DuPont with a grand jury subpoena demanding that it turn over documents related to C8. The subpoena came just a month after DuPont agreed to settle allegations by the U.S. EPA that it had not disclosed health data about C8 for 20 years. In February, DuPont agreed to pay $108 million to settle a class action lawsuit by residents in West Virginia and Ohio who claimed C8 from DuPont's plant in Parkersburg had contaminated their water supplies.

According to a DuPont statement:
"Consistent with our core values, DuPont is committed to operate to the highest standards of ethical behavior and environmental responsibility," said Stacey J. Mobley, senior vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel. "We will be fully responsive to the DOJ in this matter."

The USW represents 850,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada, and is the largest industrial union in North America. Visit www.uswa.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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