Unions share publicís concern over safety of C8
Athens Messenger
By Callie Lyons

In light of recent questions about the safety of C8, area water consumers aren’t the only ones concerned about potential health risks. The United Steelworkers union is alerting members employed in the paper packaging industry of the possible hazards of exposure to the manufacturing chemical known as PFOA.

The union fears that some workers handling the manufacturing substance might not recognize what they are using and may not be informed about exposure. DuPont officials claim that sufficient testing has been done on workers to prove the industrial processing aid is safe. But, last week a Science Advisory Board reviewing the chemical at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report that called PFOA a “likely human carcinogen.”

Steelworkers calling for regulatory control

On Friday, the United Steelworkers (USW), the nation’s largest industrial union and representative of 1,800 DuPont workers, issued a strong statement following the announcement and called for the EPA to accelerate its investigation and take regulatory action to protect both workers and the public.

“DuPont concealed its knowledge of the possible harmful effects of these chemicals for twenty years, and the company should not be allowed to regulate itself,” said USW President Leo Gerard in a statement following the announcement of the advisory board’s findings. “We feel independent testing is the key to preserving worker health and our jobs and we encourage the EPA to accelerate its investigation and take regulatory action to reduce the exposures of workers and the public to the chemical.”

“We represent 1,800 DuPont workers as well as thousands of other workers in the paper and chemical industries who come into daily contact with PFOA,” added Gerard. “A safe substitute for PFOA must be found to preserve these jobs. Our members may have higher PFOA exposure rates; their health is at stake; and they may be at risk of cancer, and immune or nervous system injury. They should not be the silent victims of DuPont’s irresponsibility.”

He noted that recently, a proposed food processing plant in Parkersburg, promising over 600 new jobs was scuttled after the company learned that the water the plant would be using could be contaminated with PFOA.

Paper companies warned about Zonyl

In April, Boyd Young, International President of the Paper, Allied Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers International Union, which has subsequently merged with United Steelworkers, the nation’s largest industrial union, put out an alert to the CEOs of 200 major paper companies citing what the union believes to be the potential health risks associated with PFOA and concerns over the health of workers who handle a coating application known by the brand name “Zonyl”.

“Zonyl is applied to linerboard, folding cartons, bags, fast food wrappers, flexible packaging, support cards for candy/bakery products, pet food liners, trays, and duplication/reproduction paper,” Boyd said in the letter. “Zonyl is linked to serious health risks, including birth defects, cancer, developmental problems and high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.”

Zonyl is a fluorinated telomer product made by Dupont and commonly used as a coating on food packaging and other paper products. The packaging industry refers to these PFOA-related coatings as barrier materials because of their non-stick attributes.

Since the full extent of the use of the chemical in packaging is unknown, the union is conducting a survey of 1,200 local union officials to collect information on the prevalence of Zonyl and how workers are being exposed to it.

The release of some preliminary findings by the Food and Drug Administration show that the federal agency has also been investigating the potential pathways for exposure to the chemical by examining paper consumer products. The findings shared with the Third International Symposium on Food Packaging in Barcelona, Spain indicate that a number of consumer products are being tested for PFOA migration including microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers, French fry boxes, and paper plates.

In 1967, the FDA approved Zonyl for use in food packaging. A number of similar substances are also FDA approved and in everyday use, but Dupont officials would not specifically identify them upon request or reveal how many there are.

Dupont spokesperson Leslie Beckoff said the corporation “make(s) hundreds of different products that go to hundreds of different customers,” indicating that identification of other brand names would be difficult.

Beckoff called the union’s concerns “inaccurate” and said there have been many published studies proving the safety of PFOA to workers.

Shawn Gilchrist, Outreach Liaison in Special Projects for the United Steelworkers said the union’s internal survey is still in its preliminary stages, but many locals are beginning to respond.

“We are trying to figure out when they apply this material to the paper, how do they do it, and are they following recommended safety and protection guidelines,” Gilchrist said. “Do they have the correct information from Dupont? That’s what we want to find out.”

The union has not yet been able to determine exactly how many workers are associated with Zonyl.

“Some of our locals were surprised that they used the stuff,” Gilchrist said. “The chemical is often mixed with other chemicals and applied in the coating process itself.”

Similarly, scientists from the Environmental Working Group in Washington DC are advocating for consumers to try to limit exposure to the manufacturing substance. But, it has been difficult to determine specifically which products may be pathways for human exposure because of the wide range of industry uses associated with PFOA and similar chemicals like Zonyl that may breakdown into PFOA.

PFOA testing made available

As a condition of the Dupont settlement with local water consumers, the corporation agreed to provide testing to determine the levels of PFOA in the bloodstreams of individuals with contaminated water supplies.

The C8 blood testing is being made available to Ohio water consumers who were customers of the following systems for at least twelve months prior to December 3, 2004: Little Hocking Water Association, Tupper Plains Chester Water District, and the cities of Pomeroy and Belpre.

Prior to the resolution of the lawsuit it was not an easy task for individuals to find out if they had been exposed to C8, or to what degree. Proprietary corporate concerns meant that only a few laboratories were capable of performing the testing and all of those laboratories had contracts with Dupont. Independent testing methods had to be developed by scientists with the assistance of industry in response to the need for more information about the chemical.

BrookMar, Inc., an independent commission appointed by the court, is managing the project and those tested will be paid for their participation.

Each participant will be required to complete a questionnaire that will disclose the water system from which they consumed contaminated water, employment history, family health history, and social history. The completed questionnaire will be reviewed with a nurse during an onsite interview, after which time participants will be asked to voluntarily undergo blood sampling.

Participants will receive a full report of their test by mail. A series of public meetings will be held in the next two weeks in the affected water districts.

The meetings are as follows:

Lubeck Public Service District, Blennerhassett Junior High, Monday, 7 to 9 p.m.

Little Hocking Water District, City of Belpre, Belpre Middle School, Tuesday, 7 to 9 p.m.

Mason County Public Service District, Pt. Pleasant Moose Lodge, July 14, 7 to 9 p.m.

Tuppers Plains-Chester, village of Pomeroy, Meigs High School, July 15, 7 to 9 p.m.

Individuals who are interested in being tested should call 1-800-605-6850 or register online at www.C8healthproject.com .