Up Study of Teflon Chemical Risk to Humans
Mon April 14, 2003 05:43 PM
By Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An unregulated chemical used in
furniture, carpet and Teflon could be a serious health risk to
the public, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency on
Monday to launch an in-depth assessment to determine its
Most of the U.S. population is exposed to low levels of the
chemical C8, or perfluorooctanoic acid, according to the EPA.
The chemical is used in hundreds of consumer and industrial
products such as jackets, to keep them dry, and as an
ingredient in Teflon to prevent food from sticking to pots and
The EPA announced that it "intensified and accelerated" its
review of C8, based on studies recently evaluated by the
agency which raised toxicity concerns.
As part of its review, the EPA ordered the industry to
submit new data to the agency by mid-July.
EPA scientists plan to determine all potential sources of
C8, how the public is exposed to it and if high levels pose a
threat to human health as some animal studies have suggested.
"To ensure consumers are protected from any potential
risks, the agency will be conducting its most extensive
scientific assessment ever undertaken on this type of
chemical," Stephen Johnson, an assistant EPA administrator,
"The agency is concerned, but that concern is tempered in
that there is a lot of uncertainty associated with the
information we have," he said.
The EPA said it was premature to ban or recall products
containing C8 until more studies are completed.
"EPA has not determined whether (C8) poses an unreasonable
risk to the public," Johnson said. "Thus EPA does not believe
there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer
or industrial related products."
The EPA last September began a priority review of C8 under
the Toxic Chemicals Control Act, which can be used to ban
chemicals that lead to health problems or defects.
C8 can remain in humans for up to 4 years, according to the
EPA. Small amounts of the chemical are found in a large
proportion of the general U.S. public.
Last week, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy
organization, alleged that DuPont Co. withheld from the
government an internal study linking C8 to birth defects in
two of seven children born to DuPont employees in the early
"(For the EPA) to get to this point and put this huge,
economically incredibly valuable product ... into this kind of
a review is a very big deal," said Richard Wiles, a vice
president of the advocacy group.
DuPont, which uses C8 to make Teflon, said it would work
with the EPA. The company maintains that low-level exposure to
C8 does not cause developmental or reproductive harm.
"We share the EPA desire to safeguard human health and the
environment, and respect the position that there are still
questions to be addressed," said Richard Angiullo, a DuPont
vice president. "A well-informed regulation would help assure
society is not being exposed to undue health or the
DuPont said it recorded some employees' low-level exposure
but did not conduct a formal study evaluating C8 or its effect
on human health. Federal law requires companies to report
information when the public is at risk to high levels of C8.
DuPont said its records showed one birth defect, but added
there was "no indication" it was linked to exposure to C8.
The Teflon chemical C8 is part of a broader family called
Tests by 3M Corp., the original manufacturer of C8, and
others have shown that high levels of exposure to the chemical
may cause liver damage and reproductive problems in rats.
Additional studies have suggested that C8 can lead to birth
defects in children of employees where the product is made.
In 2000, 3M pulled its stain repellent Scotchgard from the
market after the EPA expressed concern that a sister chemical
to C8 posed serious health risks. 3M has since stopped making
all C8-related chemicals.