EPA, Courts, DuPont Examine Health Effects of PFOA

DuPont has reported to its employees and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the results of an initial-phase health study of more than 1,000 employees from its Washington Works facility in Parkersburg, W.Va.

The study, based on 62 blood and urine tests, found no association with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) blood levels in nearly all of the results reported, including:

  • No correlation between liver functions and exposure to PFOA;
  • No correlation between blood counts and exposure to PFOA;
  • No correlation between any cancer markers measured and exposure to PFOA with respect to prostate cancer, leukemia, or multiple myeloma.

One exception, according to DuPont, was an approximate 10 percent increase in total cholesterol (most of which was in the LDL fraction) and a rise in triglycerides among some individuals having PFOA levels of greater than 1,000 parts per billion levels 200 times higher than that found in the general population. About 75 percent of the people in this group did not have high cholesterol. The study data did not indicate that PFOA was or was not the cause of the increases in serum cholesterol and triglycerides. "The association of PFOA with the increases in total cholesterol and the other end points in this study was observed in people in an industrial setting. Given the extremely small levels of PFOA exposure generally seen outside the work setting, it is my medical opinion that no association would be seen in the general public," said Sol Sax, M.D., DuPont chief medical officer.

Meanwhile, EPA has created a Science Advisory Board that includes representatives from industry, academia and environmental organizations to provide scientific peer review of a draft PFOA risk assessment and evaluate data related to exposure to PFOA. Members of the EPA's Science Advisory Board urged the agency to elevate its cancer-causing classification for the chemical and do a more thorough review of the substance. The initial draft study characterized PFOA as a "suggestive" carcinogen. However, Science Advisory Board members said there are indications the chemical is a "likely" carcinogen.

DuPont has provided individual test results to all employees who participated in its study so that they can review the results with their personal physicians. Company physicians also are available to employees who would like to discuss individual results and/or the overall findings of the study.

"This study is part of DuPont's ongoing research of PFOA in cooperation with regulators, industry and academic communities to expand the understanding of the compound," said Robert Rickard, Ph.D., director of DuPont Haskell Laboratory for Health & Environmental Sciences. "We will continue to share our findings with the public as more data become available. We will continue to consult with medical and other scientific experts to design and conduct appropriate follow-up studies."

Over the past 5 years, DuPont has reduced emissions of PFOA from its U.S. operations by 98 percent and has designed systems that capture and recycle or destroy PFOA. Global emissions have been reduced by 90 percent. DuPont has offered its new technology to others who use PFOA.

DuPont announced a plan this month to reduce the amount of PFOA in Teflon product line, a move called "a step in the right direction" by officials of the Paper, Allied- Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE). But they call DuPont's plan "vague" and say it fails to address legitimate concerns about consumers and plant workers exposed to the potential carcinogen. PACE represents some 2,000 DuPont workers at six plants.

"We applaud the company's promises - but let's be clear: studies show workers exposed to high levels of [PFOA] have higher risk of certain cancers, heart attacks and strokes," said PACE International President Boyd Young.

Hundreds of residents in West Virginia's Wood County protested the decision of the state's Department of Environmental Protection to reissue water pollution and waste management permits for DuPont's Dry Run Landfill, which is affiliated with the Washington Works facility. Residents also demanded that the state limit or forbid discharges of PFOA from the landfill. The state refused to do so because the state does not have a standard on the books that covers water pollution caused by PFOA.

"There is no water quality criteria or risk assessment," said Cliff Whyte, permit program manager for the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management told The Charleston Gazette "We didn't really have a basis for a water quality limit."

DuPont will have to apply for a permit change should EPA finalize its risk assessment of PFOA or the state or federal government draft a water quality statement for the chemical which is different than 150 parts per billion, a "screening level" set by the state at which DuPont must replace local water supplies.

Tests show that PFOA is leaching from the landfill into Dry Run Creek, creating concentrations of more than 80 parts per billion. Last month, a judge in West Virginia approved a $107 million settlement of a lawsuit filed against DuPont on behalf of thousands of residents whose drinking water was allegedly contaminated with PFOA. As part of that settlement, DuPont will install new pollution control equipment to reduce the amount of PFOA in the drinking water.

The lawsuit resulted in the discovery of internal company documents that allegedly show the company hid information about the dangers of PFOA. The agency sued DuPont in July 2004 for allegedly hiding information about the dangers of the chemical. The lawsuit claims the contamination of drinking water near the Washington Works plant created a "substantial risk of injury to health or the environment."

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