The tug-of-war between the state of New Jersey and DuPont over perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, in drinking water has reached a critical stage, according to documents posted Wednesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.
In an unusual move, DuPont consultants are being allowed to make a presentation to the state Drinking Water Quality Institute which develops recommended standards for hazardous contaminants in drinking water.
On Friday, Dr. Robert Tardiff of the Sapphire Group, which is advising DuPont, will speak to the Institute on PFOA risk assessment. The meeting is with the full Institute rather than with its Health Effects Subcommittee which is responsible for recommending health based levels for the contaminants.
PFOA is used in the manufacture of non-stick cookware. (Photo by Stanley Chung)
There has been no public notice of this meeting and it is unclear if the public or press may attend, says PEER Executive Director attorney Jeff Ruch.
"This departure from protocol seems to be an attempt to sway members of the Institute before they have a chance to analyze DEPís own risk assessment," said Ruch, noting that the Institute is not bound by state open meeting laws. "Polluters should not get a seat at the table where it is decided how harmful their pollution is."
New Jersey is widely polluted with the chemical at low levels. According to a state Department of Environmental Protection survey of drinking water systems released in February 2007, PFOA was found in 78 percent of the water systems tested.
Now administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson was then commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
"The study found very low levels in wells throughout New Jersey - consistent with levels found in other areas of the country," said Commissioner Jackson. "We are early in the process of assessing PFOA and what it means to human health. However, it is important to involve water companies now, rather than later."
Also in February 2007, the DEP published a risk assessment that supports a strict limit on PFOA in drinking water and took the first step toward developing a preliminary drinking water guidance value for the chemical.
Based on existing animal studies and estimates derived from a lifetime of exposure over 70 years, DEP identified a guidance level of .04 parts per billion (ppb). Average blood levels in the United States are approximately 5 ppb.
If enacted and enforced, the standard would hand DuPont a big groundwater remediation bill.
At the same time, says Ruch, "DuPont consultants and representatives have peppered DEP with voluminous document requests filed under the state Open Public Records Act to obtain every scrap of paper generated by any DEP scientist connected with its scientific risk assessment that was finally published in May 2009."
These OPRA requests not only demand all official records but also any "communications (internal and external), drafts, changes, personal notes," among other items.
"These OPRA requests are tantamount to combing through someoneís underwear drawer to find dirty laundry," said Ruch, pointing out that DEP has a history of withholding even final versions of documents when requested by environmental groups such as PEER. "The question is whether DEP will support its scientists or feed them to industry wolves."
At its January 27th meeting, the Institute voted to put development of PFOA standards on its 2009 work-plan. Until a standard is finalized, DEP is using a guidance level of .04 parts per billion, the same level established by the DEP risk assessment which is more than 150 times more stringent than the standard that the Sapphire Group and DuPont are advocating.
At the same time, DuPont acknowledges on its website, "Studies have shown very low levels of PFOA and other perfluorinated compounds in the environment and in the blood of the general population."
"Questions about this, as well as customer interest in product alternatives, are leading DuPont to phase out the use and production of PFOA by 2015 or earlier, if possible, and to develop new products and processes that are more environmentally sustainable," the company says.
In February 2007, DuPont Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Holliday announced the companyís commitment "to eliminate the need to make, buy or use PFOA by 2015."
PFOA is used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers that impart non-stick characteristics and heat and chemical-resistance to consumer products.
In 2006, the U.S. EPA began an effort to reduce human and environmental exposure through an innovative voluntary stewardship program. DuPont helped develop this program with EPA and seven other major fluoropolymer and fluorotelomer manufacturers agreed to participate.
The program requires global corporate commitments by each of the participants to achieve, no later than 2010, a 95 percent reduction, measured from year 2000 baseline, in both product content levels and facility emissions of PFOA, precursor chemicals that can break down to PFOA, and related chemicals.
PFOA has been detected in industrial waste, stain resistant carpets, house dust, microwave popcorn bags, water, food, and PTFE, best known by the DuPont brand name Teflon.
Despite its detection in PTFE, and uncertainty in how people are exposed, non-stick cookware is not thought to be a significant exposure pathway to people.
PFOA is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals, persistent in the environment, and at low blood levels is associated with human infertility. In people with higher exposures, some studies have associated PFOA exposure with birth defects, increased cancer rates, and changes to lipid levels, the immune system and liver - effects also identified in animals.
The U.S. EPA's scientific advisory board found in 2005 that PFOA is a "likely carcinogen." This finding was part of a draft report that has yet to be made final.
DuPont settled for $300 million in a 2004 lawsuit filed by residents near its manufacturing plant in Ohio and West Virginia based on groundwater pollution from this chemical. Currently this chemical is not regulated by the EPA.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.