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EPA Eyes Teflon Health Issues

NEW YORK — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it would investigate claims made by a private environmental group that DuPont violated the law in not disclosing evidence that a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon may have...

NEW YORK — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it would investigate claims made by a private environmental group that DuPont violated the law in not disclosing evidence that a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon may have been linked to birth defects in children born to employees.

But the EPA said it does not yet have conclusive evidence that the chemical in question — perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA — poses a danger to consumers.

As reported, Washington-based Environmental Working Growth released internal DuPont records showing that two of seven employees at a Parkersburg, W.Va., Teflon plant who had traces of PFOA in their blood found birth defects in their children. The group asked the EPA to investigate.

“The agency received the letter this past Friday from the Environmental Working Group alleging that DuPont failed to notify the agency about some studies that they believe [DuPont was] required to report to the agency,” said Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides & Toxic Substances. “The agency will be evaluating that issue and at this time, it’s premature to comment.”

Federal law requires that companies notify the EPA if they discover that a chemical they manufacture or use poses a substantial health risk. It appears that PFOA is present in the bloodstream of many Americans in trace amounts.

Johnson said in a phone press conference on PFOA: “There is a lot of uncertainty in our risk assessment at this time.”

The EPA on Monday released its preliminary risk assessment on PFOA to the public. It plans to begin seeking additional information from companies who have worked with the chemical and other interested public bodies.

Johnson said there are three key areas of uncertainty:

How PFOA, which is used in making Teflon and other products but is removed from most products during the manufacturing process, gets into the environment.

How people who aren’t exposed to PFOA in industrial situations absorb it.

What similarities exist between the way PFOA affects animals — it has been linked to defects in the liver and other organs of lab animals — and the way it affects humans.

“Because of the considerable scientific uncertainties, EPA has not determined whether PFOA poses an unreasonable risk to the public,” said Johnson. “The EPA does not believe there is a reason for consumers to stop using any consumer- or industrial-related products [that contain PFOA].”

The two incidents of birth defects, only one of which was confirmed, according to the document, occurred in 1981. The Environmental Working Group obtained the document after it entered the public domain during the discovery period of a related lawsuit against DuPont.

Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont said in a statement Monday that it would cooperate with EPA research to determine whether the chemical poses a danger to people.

“DuPont, along with other companies, has voluntarily committed to EPA to provide the necessary research to help address those questions,” said Richard Angiullo, vice president and general manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts. “DuPont remains confident that our use of PFOA over the past 50 years has not posed a risk to either human health or the environment and that our products are safe.”

If the EPA finds that PFOA poses a danger to workers or the general public, the federal government could develop regulations restricting or banning its use. Three years ago, the EPA forced a related product called PFOS, which was used in manufacturing Scotchgard, off the market.