Monday, October 12, 2015

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) is the "Tobacco of the Chemical Industry"

"Even if PFOA were banned today, the global mass of PFOA would continue to rise, and concentrations of PFOA in human blood could continue to build. Long after PFOA is banned, other PFC chemicals from 50 years of consumer products will continue to break down into their terminal PFOA end product, in the environment and in the human body."
PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8), was an essential ingredient in DuPont’s non-stick cookware for decades. It’s since been used in hundreds of other products, from microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers to pizza boxes and waterproof clothing. The chemical is now the subject of about 3,500 personal injury claims against DuPont, the first of which are scheduled for September 2015.

The legal process has uncovered hundreds of internal documents revealing that DuPont knew of the chemicals danger to the public and employees, yet continued using it, despite the known risks. In fact, 10 years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined DuPont $16.5 million for withholding decades' worth of information about health hazards associated with PFOA. As noted in a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG):
"DuPont had long known that PFOA caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley, and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But it never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators, or the EPA."
At the time, that fine was the largest the EPA had ever assessed, but it was still too small to act as a deterrent. In 2005, a panel of three scientists was ordered as part of a settlement in order to determine the chemical’s effects on people. After seven years of research, the panel linked PFOA to ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. Its health effects were deemed to be widespread and occurred even at very low exposure levels. As reported by The Intercept:
“Another revelation about C8 makes all of this more disturbing and gives the upcoming trials… global significance: This deadly chemical that DuPont continued to use well after it knew it was linked to health problems is now practically everywhere. A man-made compound that didn’t exist a century ago, C8 is in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as in newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood.

A growing group of scientists have been tracking the chemical’s spread through the environment, documenting its presence in a wide range of wildlife, including Loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, polar bears, caribou, walruses, bald eagles, lions, tigers, and arctic birds.

Although DuPont no longer uses C8, fully removing the chemical from all the bodies of water and bloodstreams it pollutes is now impossible. And, because it is so chemically stable — in fact, as far as scientists can determine, it never breaks down — C8 is expected to remain on the planet well after humans are gone from it.”

PFOA Dubbed the ‘Tobacco of the Chemical Industry’

DuPont, along with seven other companies, including 3M, were involved in producing PFOA over the decades. The chemical is being called the “tobacco of the chemical industry” because of the decades-long corporate cover-up of its health effects, the lawsuits pending, and how difficult it is to make companies accountable for producing disease-causing products, even after the evidence is clear. In DuPont’s case, they had animal evidence of harm – from liver toxicity and kidney damage to death – for decades, but the company did not alert regulators of a potential problem.

Then there were the company’s workers, some of whom gave birth to babies with birth defects after working in the company’s PFOA division. DuPont knew of the problems and was tracking its workers for such health effects, but again failed to inform regulators of their findings.

Worse still, when 3M submitted a troublesome rat study to the EPA suggesting harm, DuPont told the EPA they believed the study was flawed. While continuing to study the chemical’s effects on its workers, DuPont was also tracking the chemical’s spread into nearby waterways, as well as its emissions into the air through smokestacks.

At first DuPont disposed of PFOA by dumping it in the ocean and later moved to disposing of it in unlined landfills and ponds. They knew the chemical was spreading widely into the environment and convened a meeting to discuss what to do about it… but decided to keep using the chemical anyway. According to The Intercept:
“ … [F]rom that point on, DuPont increased its use and emissions of the chemical… the plant put an estimated 19,000 pounds of C8 into the air in 1984, the year of the meeting. By 1999, the peak of its air emissions, the West Virginia plant put some 87,000 pounds of C8 into local air and water. That same year, the company emitted more than 25,000 pounds of the chemical into the air and water around its New Jersey plant...

Essentially, DuPont decided to double-down on C8, betting that somewhere down the line the company would somehow be able to ‘eliminate all C8 emissions in a way yet to be developed that would not economically penalize the bussiness [sic]’… The executives, while conscious of probable future liability, did not act with great urgency about the potential legal predicament they faced. If they did decide to reduce emissions or stop using the chemical altogether, they still couldn’t undo the years of damage already done. As the meeting summary noted, ‘We are already liable for the past 32 years of operation.’”

More information:
» Environmental Working Group: "PFCs Last Forever"
» The Intercept: "The Teflon Toxin: DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception"
» Harper's Magazine: "Monsanto, glyphosate and the war on invasive species"

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