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Teflon ingredient a health hazard?

Chemical maker DuPont is headed for a clash with the EPA over a document containing data on birth risks associated with an unregulated chemical used to make Teflon.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Chemical maker DuPont is preparing for a clash with the Environmental Protection Agency over a document containing data on birth risks associated with an unregulated chemical used to make Teflon.

The EPA says it expects to take action soon because the Wilmington, Del., company did not provide the agency with a one-page document on the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts, known as PFOA or C-8. Although PFOA is used in making Teflon, it is not part of the Teflon itself.

Chemical makers are required to notify EPA of any information showing a chemical poses “substantial risk” to health and the environment. DuPont says the document fell short of the standard required for reporting because it was an informal record in the early 1980s of levels of PFOA in blood samples from eight women who recently had given birth and who had worked in or near a plant.

EPA: 'Formal action' soon
One woman had a 4-month-old with a confirmed birth defect in a nostril and eye; another had a 2-year-old with an unconfirmed birth defect in an eye and tear duct, the document said.

“There’s just no association to PFOA for the reporting requirements,” DuPont spokesman Clif Webb said Thursday. “It is not harmful to human health and the environment,” he said. “We’re confident we complied. ... We’re well aware of the reporting requirements.”

The EPA is investigating “alleged violations by DuPont for failure to report health related information regarding PFOA” and “expects to take formal action against DuPont soon,” according to a brief statement agency officials provided Thursday.

Document found during lawsuit
The EPA began taking a look last year after the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, complained DuPont should have turned over the document to EPA but had not.

The document was found among public records of a class-action lawsuit against DuPont brought by residents living near its Parkersburg, W.Va., plant. The residents contended their drinking water was contaminated by PFOA.

“EPA should impose the maximum fine available under law on DuPont for their failure to tell communities and EPA about tap water contamination and birth defects with Teflon chemicals,” said Richard Wiles, a senior vice president of the environmental group.