EPA Seeks to Eliminate Public Exposure To Teflon Chemical

On Jan. 25, EPA announced it was asking U.S. companies including DuPont to reduce PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid -- a chemical used to make Teflon) releases and its presence in products by 95 percent by no later than 2010 and to work toward eliminating sources of exposure five years after that but no later than 2015.

Although the effort is voluntary, the agency's action is being called an aggressive effort to restrict an industrial compound. EPA also announced it will initiate efforts to add PFOA and related chemicals to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) to help monitor the results of the stewardship program.

PFOA is an essential processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers, which are used in the manufacture of a wide range of non-stick and stain-resistant surfaces and products. PFOA may also be produced by the breakdown of fluorotelomers, which are used to impart water, stain and grease resistance to carpets, paper and textile.

According to the agency, PFOA is persistent in the environment, it has been detected in low levels in wildlife and humans, and animal studies conducted have indicated effects of concern. In laboratory animals exposed to high PFOA doses, results have been liver cancer, reduced birth weight and immune suppression. The effects of lower doses to humans are unknown.

"The science is still coming in, but the concern is there so acting now to minimize future releases of PFOA is the right thing to do for our environment and our health," said Susan B. Hazen, acting assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. "EPA is pleased to provide companies the opportunity to step up to the plate and demonstrate their leadership in protecting our global environment."

Participating companies will commit to reduce by 95 percent facility emissions and product content levels of PFOA, PFOA precursors, and higher homologue chemicals, by no later than 2010, with the year 2000 as the baseline for measuring reductions. The program also calls for companies to commit to work toward eliminating these sources of PFOA exposure five years after attaining the 95 percent reduction but no later than 2015. Companies are being asked to meet these commitments in the United States as well as in their global operations.

Also, participants are being asked to provide their commitment to EPA by March 1, 2006, and to submit their year 2000 baseline numbers for emissions and product content to EPA by Oct. 31, 2006. Annual public reports on their progress toward the goals will be due in October of each successive year. To ensure comparable reporting of reductions, participating companies must commit to work with EPA and others to develop and agree upon analytical standards and laboratory methods for these chemicals.

The companies being asked to voluntarily reduce PFOA emissions include: 3M/Dyneon, Arkema Inc., AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Daikin and Solvay Solexis.

This stewardship program is a result of the agency's ongoing process with industry, stakeholders, consumer groups, and interested parties to identify and develop the scientific information needed to fully understand how people are being exposed to PFOA and what, if any, concerns those exposures may pose. Industry has responded by initiating new studies, including through enforceable as well as voluntary testing efforts, and this important data gathering effort will continue as an additional element under the Stewardship Program, agency officials said.

"DuPont has been aggressively reducing PFOA emissions to the environment," said Susan Stalnecker, DuPont vice president. "Having achieved a 94 percent reduction in global manufacturing emissions by year-end 2005, we are well on our way to meet the goals and objectives established by the EPA stewardship program."

DuPont will work individually and with others in industry to inform EPA's regulatory counterparts in the European Union, Canada, China and Japan about activities and new information concerning PFOA.

PFOA, also known as C8 or Ammonium Perfluorooctanoate (APFO), is used in the manufacturing process of fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers impart desirable properties, including fire resistance and oil, stain, grease, and water repellency. They are used to provide non-stick surfaces on cookware and waterproof, breathable membranes for clothing. PFOA can also be found as an impurity in the production of some products.

Environmental groups hailed the agency's actions.

"This is one of those days when EPA is at its best," said Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook. "We commend the professional staff and leadership at EPA for forging a stewardship agreement with major companies that will, if properly implemented, dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, pollution associated with the chemical known as PFOA, and related chemicals that break down to become PFOA and similar substances.

"These toxic chemicals pose numerous health risks, are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, and have already found their way into the blood of people worldwide, including most Americans. Indeed, just this past summer, laboratory tests EWG commissioned found that many of these chemicals reach American babies while they are still in the womb," Cook said.

On Dec. 14, 2005, EPA announced it reached a $16.5 million settlement with DuPont over the company's failure to report to the agency possible health risks associated with a synthetic chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon.

Under the settlement, filed with the agency's Environmental Appeals Board, DuPont will pay $10.25 million -- the largest civil administrative penalty EPA has ever obtained under any federal environmental statute -- and the company is committing to $6.25 million for supplemental environmental projects.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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