Newly published research shows that even very small doses of the Teflon chemical PFOA in drinking water pose a more serious threat to public health than previously thought. EWG’s report on the research, released today, shows that federal guidance on safe levels for PFOA is hundreds, even thousands of times too weak.
You can read the full report here. The report cites, among other things, this paper published this month by Harvard University’s Philippe Grandjean and University of Massachusetts at Lowell’s Richard Clapp, which concludes:
Perfluorinated alkyl substances have been in use for over sixty years. These highly stable substances were at first thought to be virtually inert and of low toxicity. Toxicity information slowly emerged on perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate. More than thirty years ago, early studies reported immunotoxicity and carcinogenicity effects. The substances were discovered in blood samples from exposed workers, then in the general population and in community water supplies near U.S. manufacturing plants. Only recently has research publication on perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate intensified. While the toxicology database is still far from complete, carcinogenicity and immunotoxicity now appear to be relevant risks at prevalent exposure levels. Existing drinking water limits are based on less complete evidence that was available before 2008 and may be more than 100-fold too high. As risk evaluations assume that untested effects do not require regulatory attention, the greatly underestimated health risks from perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate illustrate the public health implications of assuming the safety of incompletely tested industrial chemicals.
Meanwhile, in federal court over in Ohio, there was another in a series of important rulings (see here and here) in advance of the mid-September and late-November start of trial in the first two of the thousands of personal injury cases pending against DuPont. This particular ruling, issued on Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr., denied DuPont’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages in the cases brought by Carla Marie Bartlett and John M. Wolf.
DuPont lawyers argued that “no reasonable jury could find that DuPont acted with the requisite mental state to warrant an award of punitive damages.” They argued, for example, that:
… The evidence shows that DuPont exhibited a proactive concern for safety in its use of PFOA at its Washington Works plant, consistently going beyond the regulatory requirements and the typical conduct of most chemical companies.
The plaintiffs, though offered these and other examples of DuPont’s actions (and inactions) over the years (as outlined by the judge):
— DuPont knew about the nature, extent and significance of C8 and its concentration and hazards to its employees, the public, government agencies, and the environment and yet increased its release of C8 from the Washington Works plant.
— DuPont discharged vast quantities of C8 into the environment around the Washington Works plant resulting in contamination of area drinking water supplies and failed to disclose the contamination to regulators and those exposed to the contaminated drinking water, despite early (1950s and 1970s) concerns about 1) danger to groundwater, 2) environmental persistence, 3) toxicity and bio-persistence, 4) landfilling, and 5) risks to employees.
— DuPont failed to follow up on positive findings from animal studies and human epidemiology studies on C8 risks/diseases.
— DuPont misled government officials and the general public about the health and safety of C8 and its presence in drinking water.
— DuPont violated established scientific standards in interpreting the results of C8 health studies, manipulating its health standards and deviating from scientific principles.
Sending the issue on for the jury to decide, the judge opined:
… Believing the trial plaintiffs’ evidence as true and drawing all justifiable inferences in their favor, a reasonable jury could find the evidence shows that DuPont knew that C8 was harmful, that it purposefully manipulated or used inadequate scientific studies to support its position, and/or that it provided false information to the public about the dangers of C8. If the jury came to these conclusions, it could reasonably find the evidence clearly and convincingly showed that DuPont’s conscious disregard of the rights and safety [of Mid-Ohio Valley residents exposed to water contaminated with C8] had a great probability of causing substantial harm and/or that its actions were done maliciously, wantonly, mischievously, or with criminal indifference to civil obligations. Consequently, there are genuine issues of material fact that prevent this court from determining the punitive damages issue as a matter of law.