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Group Seeks EPA Probe Of DuPont Disclosures

An environmental research group has petitioned the EPA to look into DuPont’s disclosures about birth defects linked to its production of Teflon.

NEW YORK — A Washington environmental research group on Friday petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate DuPont for allegedly failing to disclose that a chemical used in the manufacturing of Teflon may have been associated with birth defects among children of employees working at a DuPont factory.

This story first appeared in the April 14, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Environmental Working Group said in a letter to the EPA that it had discovered that DuPont in a 1981 internal report recorded birth defects in children born to two of seven women who gave birth after working at the company’s Parkersburg, W. Va., Teflon plant. In one child, there were confirmed defects to one eye and one nostril, and in the other there were “unconfirmed” defects to an eye and tear duct.

The chemical is perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA. Three years ago, the EPA forced a chemical related to PFOA, known as PFOS, off the market. It was the original ingredient in 3M’s Scotchguard products. At the time of the 1981 incident, DuPont bought PFOA from 3M.

The EWG obtained the report after it came into the public record during the discovery period of a lawsuit brought against Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont by another party.

In a statement Friday, Robert W. Rickard, director of DuPont’s Haskell Laboratory for Health and Environmental Services, said: “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.”

Kris Thayer, senior scientist at the EWG, said PFOA animal tests have linked exposure to abnormalities in the liver, brain and reproductive organs. Most PFOA is removed from Teflon in the manufacturing process and the complaint related only to workers exposed directly to it during its manufacture.

However, Thayer said there is some evidence to suggest “that Teflon used in carpet protection and fabric protection…can break down into PFOA in humans.” A statement released by the EWG said PFOA is present “in the blood of virtually every American.”

The DuPont statement said tests have shown that nonstick cookware coated with Teflon does not contain PFOA. A DuPont spokesman did not specifically respond to inquiries of whether textile products treated with Teflon contain the chemical.

The Toxic Substances Control Act requires that companies inform the EPA when they discover that a chemical they manufacture or use poses a substantial health risk. For companies that don’t make the proper notifications within 15 days, the act calls for fines of up to $25,000 a day. Given that this incident took place 22 years ago, that means the total fine could be more than $190 million, if the EPA finds that DuPont violated the law.

EPA officials did not respond to phone calls.