Sustained Outrage


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are pushing DuPont Co. to conduct more widespread C8 water testing, based at least in part on data that indicates “elevated levels” of the chemical in the Ohio River as far away from DuPont’s Parkersburg plant as Cincinnati.

That’s what local journalist Callie Lyons reported late last week on her blog:

The EPA is trying to learn how DuPont’s C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, has made it so far away from Washington Works near Parkersburg, West Virginia. The chemical has been used there for more than fifty years to make Teflon and other stain-resistant, nonstick surfaces and applications – hundreds of applications used in thousands of consumer products.

Cincinnati Water Works has been tracking C8 in the river since 2005 when they detected levels of 100 parts per trillion – a number that exceeds the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection health-based action level of 40 parts per trillion.

Callie cites, among other things, a copy of a March 3 letter from EPA to DuPont in which federal government officials outline a variety of concerns about plans for any future C8 testing by the company.

I’ve been unable to get much about this out of EPA’s spokesman on C8 issues, Dale Kemery. But Callie was kind enough to pass on a copy of the March 3 letter, so I’ve posted it here.

This is all part of a process that is going on in which DuPont and EPA are supposed to be trying to figure out where C8 from the Washington Works plant has ended up, what ways humans might be exposed to that C8 and what should be done about it.  Concern about C8 and similar chemicals has been growing, especially as scientists continue to find the stuff in people, food and consumer products around the world.

In her blog, Callie notes the following about Cincinnati’s water:

Data provided by Cincinnati Water Works indicates that annual sampling has taken place demonstrating a gradual decline of C8 in the water over the past four years. In 2006, levels of 21 parts per trillion were detected in the river. By April 2009 that number had decreased to 11 parts per trillion.

Callie wrote that Jeff Swertfeger, assistant superintendent of water quality and treatment at the Cincinnati Water Works told her his agency  did not perform any testing on their finished water.

And, it’s important to note that Cincinnati has one of the world’s largest granular activated carbon, or GAC, filter systems — technology that should be able to remove C8 from the water, as this report from the Ohio News Network suggested.

Last year, a peer-review panel suggested a comprehensive water sampling program testing for C8 should “extend downstream as far as possible” in the Ohio River.  But the peer-review report also suggested it go at least as far as Crab Creek in Mason County, W.Va., which is about 100 miles from the Washington Works plant — and hardly anywhere near Cincinnati.

In its letter to DuPont, EPA says that the company has opposed doing water sampling over a broader geographic area:

… DuPont states that understanding the spatial extent of the PFOA contamination associated with the site is not significant, and that conducting sampling to delineate the extent of contamination further from the site “would not have a meaningful impact on the results of the screening level exposure assessment.”

EPA disagreed, saying:

… EPA believes that the spatial extent is significant and that the suggested additional monitoring data are needed to adequately evaluate exposure further from the site at a screening level.

The EPA letter continued:

… The Ohio River is a major drinking water source downstream from the site. DuPont data shows elevated PFOA levels in the river at the downstream limit of sampling. The limited spatial extent of the data that DuPont generated does not allow a sufficient understanding of the releases from the site and presence of PFOA in the river.

Therefore, the pathway of migration from the site and exposure to PFOA from use of river water as a source of drinking water downstream from the facility cannot be adequately characterized and assessed on a screening level basis.

Greater than 2 million people use the Ohio River as a source of drinking water downstream from the site, and potential exposure to PFOA associated with the site is not known. EPA believes that this potential pathway of exposure needs to be understood … and that the currently available data are not sufficient.

Some experts I’ve talked with seem to think it’s incredible that the tiny amounts of C8 discharged by the DuPont plant and various landfills DuPont used could still be showing up at measurable levels more than 250 miles away.

On the other hand, don’t forget this study (subscription required) by University of Cincinnati researchers, which found a relationship between breast growth and PFOA levels in the blood of girls and young women from the Cincinnati area, an indication that the chemical acts as an “endocrine disruptor.”

Is there some other significant C8 source between Parkersburg and Cincinnati? Where is the C8 in the river coming from?