Sustained Outrage

EPA cuts pre-Christmas deal with DuPont

Just days before Christmas — with the press and the public occupied with holiday events and family obligations — the Obama administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a fascinating new legal settlement with chemical giant DuPont Co.

The EPA press release announced:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that DuPont has agreed to pay a penalty of $3.3 million to resolve 57 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) violations. DuPont failed to immediately notify EPA of research indicating substantial risk found during testing chemicals for possible use as surface protection, masonry protection, water repellants, sealants and paints. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires companies to inform EPA when they have research demonstrating that a chemical could pose a substantial risk to human health and the environment.

I’ve posted a copy of the settlement here. If you look closely, you’ll notice one interesting thing regarding the timing of this deal: DuPont officials and at least one EPA official signed off on it way back in September. A final EPA signature was added on Dec. 6. But, an EPA announcement was withheld until the middle of the busy holiday week. And perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t been able to find much media coverage of the deal. If a quiet announcement was intended, then EPA and DuPont succeeded.

Keep in mind now that it was just five years ago that EPA announced what it said at the time was “the largest civil administrative penalty EPA has ever obtained under any federal environmental statute” — a $10.25 million fine to be paid by DuPont for covering up studies about the potential dangers of the toxic chemical C8. As part of that deal, DuPont also agreed to spend $6.25 million on “supplemental environmental projects,” including an investigation of  the potential of some DuPont products to break down into C8 and a “green chemistry program” at Wood County, W.Va., schools.

It’s also worth remembering that, when EPA announced that December 2005 deal with DuPont, agency officials tucked into it the revelation that DuPont withheld from regulators and the public the results of studies that found three chemicals related to C8 to be “extremely toxic.

Now, we learn that shortly after that settlement was announced, in May 2006, DuPont informed EPA that it may have failed to report other studies about chemical dangers. In July 2006, DuPont submitted 109 such studies. Over the next 11 months, DuPont gave EPA 67 more such studies — for a total of 176 reports that were not given to regulators in a timely fashion.

All of the studies were performed on rats to try to judge the potential dangers of inhalation of certain chemicals. Ultimately:

EPA determined that 57 of the studies contained information on chemicals that could present a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment and therefore subject to the TSCA Section 8(e). Full compliance with TSCA reporting requirements allows EPA to understand and limit, when necessary, potential hazards associated with manufacturing, use, and disposal of chemical substances.

But what chemicals are involved? Well, that’s not really something EPA or DuPont appear to be telling the public.

The EPA press release mentioned only that the studies involved chemicals DuPont was testing “for possible use as surface protection, masonry protection, water repellants, sealants and paints.” Some scant information is apparently available in an attachment to the settlement document. But it’s interesting that EPA did not include that attachment when it posted the settlement document here on its Web site.

I’ve posted a copy of it here, and if you look at it, you’ll see that much of the information — specifically most of the chemicals involved — has been hidden from the public.