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New EPA leader may affect C8 inquiry

By Callie Lyons,

The announcement that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman will resign June 27 comes at a time when the agency is in the middle of its largest manufacturing chemical investigation ever.

The chemical in question, known to DuPont as C8 and to scientists as PFOA, is key to the manufacturing of the nonstick substance trademarked as Teflon. The chemical is a major issue for area citizens because of its use by DuPont's Washington, W.Va., plant and its discovery in several local water systems.

Some environmentalists believe the next EPA administrator appointed by President Bush will have significant impact on the future investigation of C8 in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

"It is the most important position as far as the environment goes," said Dave Cooper, organizer of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a non-profit organization in Huntington, W.Va. "Given the Bush administration's record so far, we are concerned that the next EPA administrator will be an industry person. And, then enforcement and investigation will get worse, not better."

Cooper's group has been disappointed with the policies of the Bush administration regarding mountaintop removal and coal mining. They are observing the C8 issue with interest also.

"So many chemicals get put on the market, and the burden is put on the government to prove that the chemicals are safe," Cooper said. "I gave away all my Teflon frying pans this morning. If the information about this chemical doesn't alarm people, they are not thinking."

Cooper said Whitman had a reputation for being a moderate Republican, continually fighting the Bush administration. He doesn't want to see her replacement come from the ranks of the oil and gas industry.

Bob Griffin, general manager of the Little Hocking Water Association, said he doesn't know whether the change in EPA administration will affect the local situation.

On June 6, Griffin will be one of several local people traveling to Washington, D.C., for the public hearing, which is the next step in the EPA's evaluation of the toxicity of C8. Griffin said the EPA docket, which is available online, is growing day by day with several comments from local people in the water district.

EPA Senior Press Officer Luke Hester said the agency administrator is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

"It does require Senate confirmation," Hester said. "Which could be quick or prolonged, depending upon the person and their track record."

Hester said there will be no procedural delay in agency services, since an acting administrator will be named to step in the day that Whitman leaves. He suggested that Deputy Administrator Linda Fisher is likely to be named as the new administrator because she has worked in the agency for many years.

"It is likely to be someone who has a long history with the agency and a long history in management," Hester said. "I'm not saying there has been a definite decision made. It's speculation, but pretty good speculation."

Sandy Buchanan, the executive director of Ohio Citizen Action in Cleveland, said she does not believe a change in EPA administration will make a difference in the future of C8 or the general direction of the agency.

"The tone (for the EPA) is set by the president," Buchanan said. "Whitman was carrying out Bush's policies, so I don't know that it will make a big difference for him to appoint someone else. The difference could only be made with a change in his environmental policies."

No matter who replaces Whitman, environmentalists hope the process of evaluating C8 will be aggressively pursued.

"We hope and trust that the next EPA administrator will support continuation of the scientific inquiry into C8 that is now well under way at the agency," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. "And, we're convinced that the process will inevitably lead to regulation that is badly needed and long overdue."

To view comments

Go to EPA Public Docket,

Docket OPPT-2003-0012


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