DuPont sticks to its defence

DuPont is facing administrative action from the US Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly exposing workers and members of the public to PFOA, a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon.

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) is taking an administrative action against DuPont for two violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and one violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). DuPont has responded, saying it will file a formal denial.

The violations are said to consist of multiple failures to report information to the EPA about substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment from a chemical during a period beginning in June of 1981 through to March of 2001.

Companies in the US are required by TSCA to report such information immediately or face a penalty of $25,000 per day for violations occurring before January 30, 1997, and up to $27,500 per day for violations occurring thereafter.

The EPA alleges that DuPont did not submit to the Agency information the company had obtained regarding the synthetic chemical Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). PFOA is used in the manufacturing process for fluoropolymers, including some Teflon products, at DuPont’s Washington Works facility in Washington, West Virginia.

In 1981, the company reportedly observed PFOA in blood samples taken from pregnant workers at the Washington Works facility and at least one woman had transferred the chemical to her foetus.

According to the EPA, DuPont detected the chemical in public water supplies as early as the mid-1980s in West Virginia and Ohio communities in the vicinity of the Washington Works facility.

By 1991 DuPont had information that the chemical was in water supplies at a greater level than the company’s exposure guidelines indicated would be without any effect to members of the community.

In 1997, DuPont failed to provide EPA with all toxicological information the company had regarding PFOA, despite an EPA request for such information under the terms of an EPA-issued RCRA permit. An attorney working on a class action suit on behalf of citizens in Ohio and West Virginia brought this information to the EPA in 2001.

“DuPont has provided substantial information to EPA supporting our conclusion that we have followed the law,” commented DuPont General Counsel Stacey J. Mobley. “We will take action to respond to the Agency’s complaint and will vigorously defend our position.”

“This is not about the safety of our products,” Mobley said. “It is about administrative reporting. Furthermore, we believe that a decision against DuPont in this matter would redefine TSCA and RCRA reporting requirements and would not prevail under the scrutiny of the courts.”

Noting that EPA has not proposed a specific penalty at this time, the company said it will file a formal denial to the EPA complaint within 30 days.

DuPont asserts that there is no legal basis for the EPA’s allegations. The company contends that it has fully complied with statutory reporting requirements and disputes any association between PFOA and harmful effects on human health or the environment.

“The evidence from over 50 years of experience and extensive scientific studies supports our conclusion that PFOA does not harm human health or the environment,” Mobley concluded.