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EPA Program Could Eliminate Teflon Chemical

PFOA, a suspected carcinogen, might be gone from most products by 2015

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday a voluntary program whereby makers of Teflon and other non-stick, stain-resistant products would cut back emissions of a suspected carcinogen, a byproduct of the manufacturing process.

The companies would agree to reduce emissions of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and slash its use in products by 95 percent by 2010, and then completely eliminate it by 2015.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the move was significant, despite its voluntary nature and apparent lack of enforceability.

"We want to commend the EPA for their leadership on this and make it very clear that these chemicals pose numerous health risks," said EWG President Ken Cook at a news conference Wednesday. "They are extraordinarily persistent and virtually all Americans have them in their blood already."

EWG did not reserve its praise for the EPA only. Cook also singled out chemicals giant DuPont "as a company at its best."

Last month, DuPont agreed to pay record EPA fines for previous PFOA-related violations, including a $10.25 million penalty and another $6.25 million to support two EPA environmental projects. Those projects include a $5 million, three-year look at the "degradation potential" of nine of DuPont's fluorotelomer-based products to break down and form PFOA.

According to the Associated Press, Dupont has already signed onto the new, voluntary program.

PFOA is used in the manufacture of fluoropolymers and fluorotelomers which, in turn, are used to make a wide-range of non-stick and stain-resistant products, such as Teflon.

"These have been called wonder chemicals," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's vice president for research. "They have now evolved into staple stain and grease-proof coatings for a broad array of everyday consumer products, including microwave popcorn bags, carpets and blue jeans."

"With this announcement, these chemicals join a short list of chemicals that have been banned or are the subject of a public phase-out," Houlihan continued.

In animal studies, PFOA has caused malignant tumors and immune suppression, said EWG senior scientist Tim Kropp. Some 95 percent of Americans tested have shown evidence of the chemical in their blood, the watchdog group said.

Under the terms of the EPA's "global stewardship program," DuPont and six other major chemical companies will commit to reduce by 95 percent emissions and product content levels of PFOA and PFOA precursors no later than 2010. The companies will work toward eliminating these sources of PFOA exposure by 2015.

Companies are being asked to provide their commitment to the EPA no later than March 1, 2006.

Despite the program's voluntary status, EWG officials felt optimistic about its chances for success.

"It is unfortunate that stuff cannot be enforced and that the EPA does not have the tools to require this type of action, but with this specific action we have a confluence of factors that make us relatively confident that this will happen," Kropp said.

Primary among them is that consumers no longer want these chemicals in their products, which makes the secondary companies that put the chemicals in products reluctant to use them, he said.

"There are a lot of market forces driving these companies to come up with a better alternative and something that's greener and cleaner," Kropp said.

More information

For more on PFOAs, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

SOURCES: Jan. 25, 2006, news briefing with Ken Cook, president, Environmental Working Group (EWG), Washington, D.C.; Jane Houlihan, vice president for research, EWG, and Tim Kropp, Ph.D., senior scientist, EWG
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