DuPont officials say they will no longer be in the C8 business in 2014 – one year ahead of a voluntary global phase out program initiated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, was detected in local drinking water supplies in 2001 and 2002 – the result of emissions from DuPont Washington Works near Parkersburg, West Virginia where the chemical has been used for decades to make Teflon and other consumer applications. The discovery of the chemical contamination led to a class action lawsuit against DuPont brought by local water consumers who feared health effects from exposure to the manmade surfactant. Communities with water systems impacted by the contamination include Belpre, Tuppers Plains, Little Hocking and Pomeroy, Ohio - and Lubeck and Mason County, West Virginia.
As the result of the class action lawsuit settlement, an independent panel of epidemiologists known as the C8 Science Panel determined after several years of study that C8 exposure is linked to pre-eclampsia, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and kidney and testicular cancer. Dozens of area residents who have fallen ill are in the process of filing personal injury claims against the company, which will be handled as multi-district litigation in federal court.
Despite the settlement of the lawsuit, many questions remain about C8 and the extent to which it contaminated the local environment. For instance, the controversy began with the deaths of an entire herd of cattle, yet the company is so far refusing to provide EPA-requested testing of local cattle, locally grown produce, and many other sets of environmental monitoring data promised more than a decade ago. By means of a voluntary regulatory process, a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2005, EPA hoped to gain insight into some of C8's more elusive properties - such as the chemical's capacity to travel in the environment, as well as the extent to which local game and produce had become contaminated. Yet, many of these questions remain unanswered.
Cincinnati attorney Robert Bilott, who was the lead attorney for the class in the groundbreaking C8 suit, has been urging the EPA to force DuPont to provide the promised monitoring in order to "address ongoing threats to human health and the environment".
In a November letter to Bilott, EPA officials admit “additional data would have provided for a more thorough characterization of releases near the Washington Works site”. Dr. Maria J. Doa, Director of the Chemical Control Division says DuPont participated in a monitoring program, but “did not fully meet the charge”. However, Doa insists the EPA is “not in a position to require DuPont to conduct additional monitoring”.
Doa points to agency efforts which have resulted in a Stewardship Program – a global initiative involving eight companies who have voluntarily pledged to phase out manufacturing of C8 by the end of 2015.
DuPont spokesperson Janet Smith said the company has already stopped manufacturing C8 and is “on track to complete the conversion to alternatives” in 2014.
“DuPont stopped manufacturing PFOA in first quarter 2013,” Smith said. “We have also eliminated use of PFOA in the manufacture of fluoropolymers as of the end of June 2013.”
In the company’s annual report documenting progress in meeting the PFOA Stewardship Program goals, DuPont notes that the elimination of C8 in the manufacture of fluoropolymers was made two and a half years ahead of the EPA goal.