Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A scientific advisory panel to the Environmental Protection Agency voted unanimously yesterday to recommend that a chemical used when making Teflon and other nonstick and stain-resistant products should be considered a likely carcinogen.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C-8, is a processing aid used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, which are used in a wide variety of products, including nonstick cookware.

DuPont Co., owner of the Teflon brand, is the sole producer of PFOA in North America.

PFOA also is used in many other of the company’s most popular products, such as auto fuel systems, firefighting foam, phone cables, computer chips and clothing.

The Science Advisory Board’s approval of the recommendation by a review panel is conditional on minor clarifications to a draft report, but no major changes will be made to the panel’s findings.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson is free to accept the board’s recommendations or to reject them.

The EPA will use the report “as well as all new information that becomes available, to formulate the next steps in our continuing assessment of these chemicals,” said Oscar Hernandez, director of the risk assessment division in the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.

In December, DuPont agreed to pay $10.25 million in fines and $6.25 million for environmental projects to settle charges by the EPA that the company hid information about PFOA.

The settlement was the largest civil administrative penalty obtained by the EPA under any federal environmental statute, surpassing a $6 million penalty levied more than a decade ago in a Tennessee case involving polychlorinated biphenyls.

The Wilmington, Del.-based chemical giant did not admit any liability.

The settlement involved EPA accusations that DuPont violated the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by withholding information about the potential health and environmental risks posed by PFOA.

The EPA contended that DuPont withheld information for more than 20 years about the health effects of PFOA and about the pollution of water supplies around the company’s Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, W.Va.

Among other things, the EPA said DuPont knew as early as 1981 from studies of pregnant workers that the chemical could be transmitted through a woman’s placenta to her fetus. The agency did not learn of the 1981 study until 2001, when results were provided to the agency by a lawyer representing Parkersburg-area residents in a class-action lawsuit against DuPont.

In July, a class-action lawsuit was filed against DuPont saying the company long failed to warn consumers on the dangers of PFOA.

Two Florida law firms filed the suit in federal courts in eight states on behalf of 14 persons who bought and used cookware with Teflon.

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