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Study Finds Teflon Chemical In Newborns' Umbilical Cords

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February 7, 2006

A chemical used in manufacturing Teflon is found in the bloodstreams of nearly everyone in the U.S., and now a new study suggests the potential carcinogen is present in many people at birth.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center say the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, was found in nearly every blood sample taken from umbilical cords. Of 300 cords tested, 298 tested positive for PFOA, according to the study.

Doctors have known that the chemical is widespread in the environment. What they don?t know is whether it's toxic to people. An Environmental Protection Agency panel, which studied the chemical, has concluded PFOA is a likely carcinogen.

PFOA is manufactured by DuPont, which recently agreed to FDA demands to virtually eliminate any new emissions from its plants making Teflon by 2010. DuPont has already paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by residents who live near a Teflon plant in West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the effects of PFOA. The agency said it began its investigation because PFOA is very persistent in the environment, was being found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population, and caused developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.

Late last month the EPA asked all PFOA manufacturers to participate in a global "stewardship" program on PFOA and related chemicals.

Participating companies will be asked to commit to reducing PFOA from emissions and product content by 95 percent no later than 2010, and to work toward eliminating PFOA from emissions and product content no later than 2015.

The Environmental Working Group, a public interest watchdog, said major changes are needed in the way the government regulates potentially dangerous chemicals.

"The controlling law for these chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act, has left government regulators toothless, purblind, and overly dependent on volunteerism since it was first passed, in 1976. It is the only major modern environmental law that has not been comprehensively reauthorized since its original passage," the group said in a statement.

DuPont to phase out PFOA packaging chemical

By Ahmed ElAmin

31/01/2006 - DuPont has agreed to phase out a chemical used in grease proof wrapping for foods, leaving packagers scrambling for alternatives.

The move comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pushed manufacturers of PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) to reduce the chemical's presence in products by 95 per cent no later than 2010, and completely by 2015.

The processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure better safety of their food products and the packaging. Health concerns about packaging chemicals, such as phthalates, have raised consumer awareness of about the risks posed by materials

PFOA is used to line grease-resistant packaging for candy, pizza, microwave popcorn and hundreds of other foods. DuPont was hit by allegations last year that it hid studies showing the high health risks of the chemical. DuPont has denied the charges.

While scientific studies have so far not shown PFOA to be pose a risk to human health, the EPA has been under pressure from community groups to ban the use of the chemical.

Last week the EPA called on DuPont and six other corporations to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. The companies are being asked to meet the commitments in the US as well as in their global operations.

So far only DuPont has agreed to reduce its use of the chemical, but says eliminating it altogether may be impossible. In a press release today, the company said it has already reduced PFOA emissions from US plant sites by 96 per cent.

The company also disputed a finding by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which stated in a draft report that PFOA should be classified as a "likely" carcinogen.

DuPont said the SAB report was based on laboratory studies in rats, and did not adequately reflect human health data that show no health effects. The SAB panel members did not agree among themselves that PFOA should be put on a classified list.

The company supports the position of those panel members who agreed with EPA's current draft risk assessment that states PFOA should be classified as a "suggestive" carcinogen.

"PFOA induces benign tumors in male rats, but only at high doses and by a mechanism that is not likely relevant to humans," DuPont said in quoting Samuel Cohen, chairperson of the department of pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "Thus, we can be confident that PFOA does not pose a cancer risk to humans at the low levels found in the general population."

The EPA report found that PFOA is persistent in the environment. It has been detected in low levels in wildlife and humans, and animal studies conducted have indicated effects of concern.

"The science is still coming in, but the concern is there so acting now to minimize future releases of PFOA is the right thing to do for our environment and our health," stated Susan B. Hazen, EPA's acting assistant administrator in the organisation's prevention, pesticides and toxic substances unit.

DuPont noted that its trademark Teflon brand non-stick coatings is made from fluoropolymers, not PFOA.

PFOA is a processing aid used to make fluoropolymers - high performance plastics manufactured by a number of companies.

DuPont said its has developed new technology that can reduce PFOA content in fluoropolymer dispersions by more than 97 per cent. DuPont has offered the technology to fluoropolymer manufacturers globally in a royalty-free exchange.

Other companies being asked to voluntarily reduce PFOA emissions are 3M/Dyneon, Arkema, Inc., AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Daikin and Solvay Solexis.

Late last year, DuPont agreed to pay a record $10.25 million fine for failing to tell the EPA about its studies that found the chemical had contaminated
human blood and should be considered "extremely toxic". The company also agreed to pay another $6.25 million for research to evaluate the way PFOA degrades in the environment.

The EPA had accused DuPont of failing to submit a 1981 study revealing that PFOA was passed from pregnant employees to their fetuses.

The fine followed allegations over DuPont's marquee paper packaging coating chemical, Zonyl RP, which is cleared for use in the US and the EU.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and a former chemical engineer with DuPont claimed that the company suppressed studies showing Zonyl RP could contaminate food at over three times the US federal safety standard.

Zonyl RP generates about $100 million in revenues a year for DuPont. Since the FDA originally approved the use of the chemical for food packing in 1967, scientists have found the body breaks down fluorotelomers such as Zonyl into PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. PFOA accumulates in the human body.

DuPont denies the claims.