Sustained Outrage

New scrutiny for C8 alternatives and DuPont

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DuPont, C8 and chemicals being used to replace C8 are receiving new attention today, with the publication of a major essay in a scientific journal and the release of a critical report by the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group.

The New York Times wrapped these developments into a story headlined, “Commonly used chemicals come under new scrutiny“:

A top federal health official and hundreds of environmental scientists on Friday voiced new health concerns about a common class of chemicals used in products as varied as pizza boxes and carpet treatments.

The concerted public campaign renews a years-old debate about a class of chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. After studies showed that some PFASs lingered in people’s bodies for years, and appeared to increase the risks of cancer and other health problems, the chemical manufacturer DuPont banned the use of one type of PFAS in its popular Teflon products, and other companies followed suit.

At issue now are replacement chemicals developed by those manufacturers and used in thousands of products, including electronics, footwear, sleeping bags, tents, protective gear for firefighters and even the foams used to extinguish fires.

The new commentary, by Linda S. Birnbaum of the National Institutes of Health and Harvard’s Philippe Grandjean, explains:

Research is needed to understand the potential for adverse health effects from exposure to the short-chain PFASs, especially regarding low-dose endocrine disruption and immunotoxicity. In parallel, research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs. The question is, should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment? And, in the absence of indisputably safe alternatives, are consumers willing to give up certain product functionalities, such as stain resistance, to protect themselves against potential health risks? These conundrums cannot be resolved by science alone but need to be considered in an open discussion informed by the scientific evidence.

The Environmental Working Group report adds:

Production, use and importation of PFOA has ended in the United States, but in its place DuPont and other companies are using similar compounds that may not be much – if at all – safer. These next-generation PFCs are used in greaseproof food wrappers, waterproof clothing and other products. Few have been tested for safety, and the names, composition and health effects of most are hidden as trade secrets. With the new PFCs’ potential for harm, continued global production, the chemicals’ persistence in the environment and presence in drinking water in at least 29 states, we’re a long way from the day when PFCs will be no cause for concern.

 EWG also notes, citing what’s known as the “Madrid Statement”:

In a just-published paper, 14 international scientists have sounded the alarm, calling for tighter controls on all PFCs lest the tragic history of C8 repeat itself. Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, they likened the new PFCs (which they refer to as PFASs) to the chemicals that replaced another group of fluorine-based substances found in the 1980s to be depleting Earth’s protective ozone layer. Although those chemicals were banned worldwide under a 1987 treaty, the scientists wrote, the alternatives are also harmful:

Global action through the Montreal Protocol successfully reduced the use of the highly persistent ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), thus allowing for the recovery of the ozone layer. However, many of the organofluorine replacements for CFCs are still of concern due to their high global warming potential. It is essential to learn from such past efforts and take measures at the international level to reduce the use of PFASs in products and prevent their replacement with fluorinated alternatives in order to avoid long-term harm to human health and the environment.

DuPont, in its own statement, said this morning:

DuPont does not believe the Madrid statement reflects a true consideration of the available data on alternatives to long-chain perfluorochemicals.

The Madrid Statement focuses on perfluorinated substances that were developed by a number of industry leaders to allow the phase-out of long-chain perfluorinated compounds.  This phase-out was done under the U.S. EPA 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program.  The U.S. EPA has stated that this program has yielded significant human health and environmental benefits.  EPA has also stated that based on data, these alternatives are much more rapidly eliminated from the body that PFOA, and are less toxic than the long-chain chemicals.

DuPont and other leading industry members have been working for more than a decade, with oversight from regulators, to phase out the use of long-chain perfuorinated compounds.  As a result of industry efforts, data indicate that levels of PFOA and related chemicals have dropped over the last several years, both in people’s blood and in the environment. 

DuPont and other industry members have introduced alternatives to long-chain perfluorinated compounds, and these alternatives have improved health and environmental profiles.  DuPont is confident that our alternative chemistries can be used safely — they are well characterized, and the data has been used to register them with environmental agencies around the world. 

Again, we believe the Madrid statement does not reflect a true consideration of the available data.

 Not mentioned in the Times article, but noted by EWG is this other important development:

In July 2015, DuPont will spin off its Specialty Chemicals unit, which made C8/PFOA and now makes the replacement chemicals for Teflon and other products, to a new corporation called Chemours. Securities and Exchange Commission filings indicate that this may transfer DuPont’s legal liability for damage from C8 to Chemours. This could shield DuPont from full liability and allow the smaller company to claim that it has insufficient assets to pay compensation for the damage done in the mid-Ohio Valley and other places where C8 was made or used.