Engineering News

DuPont Contaminated James River with ''Likely'' Carcinogen
Wednesday March 1, 12:53 pm ET

PFOA Public Officials and Employees Kept in the Dark

RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 1, 2006--According to findings by the United Steelworkers International Union (USW), the controversial Teflon-related chemical, PFOA, was released to the James River from DuPont's Spruance plant in Richmond, Virginia.

The Richmond plant is one of the about thirteen known DuPont locations nation-wide where PFOA or PFOA-related chemicals have been used. Contamination of groundwater, nearby rivers, and drinking water is known to have occurred at several of these locations. However, many of these plants, like the Richmond facility, still have not been investigated by state or federal regulatory agencies.

The USW began researching PFOA contamination after learning that its own members were being exposed at DuPont and possibly at manufacturing plants around the country. USW research from DuPont plants in Ohio and North Carolina has been shared with regulatory agencies, and environmental and labor organizations.

According to a 1991 "confidential" company document, DuPont's concerns over the levels of PFOA, also called C8, contamination in discharges into the James River were such that the plant considered cutting back production during low river flows. DuPont stated to The Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia) in 2004 that it stopped using PFOA at its Richmond plant in the late 1990's and phased out production of Teflon fibers after selling its business unit in 2002. However, the USW suspects that the coating of some Kevlar products, which in the past involved the use of PFOA, has continued.

DuPont's internal documents from the 1970's and 80's also express concern over the potential exposure of employees. After learning in 1981 that PFOA could cause birth defects in laboratory rats, DuPont transferred female employees of "childbearing potential" at plants in Ohio and West Virginia out of areas where they might be exposed to PFOA.

Thirty-one female employees at the Richmond plant were known to work in such areas, but were not transferred. That decision, according to a DuPont document, was based on the results of only six blood samples that did not show blood levels of PFOA above what DuPont considered to be an acceptable level.

The Ampthill Rayon Workers, Inc. (ARWI) represents about 1,100 employees at the Richmond plant and asked DuPont for information about workplace exposures of PFOA in 2004. According to ARWI President Jay Palmore, "documents shared by the USW make it clear that the company did not provide all the information we asked for. DuPont did not provide documents showing that PFOA may have been escaping from the Teflon and Kevlar products we handled."

The ARWI is concerned that workers may have been contaminated with the toxic chemical that scientists say can take 20 years to be eliminated from the body. Another request has been made for information about employee blood sampling and incidences of birth defects.

The US Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board has identified PFOA, which is used to make Teflon, a "likely" human carcinogen. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality only learned about the use of PFOA at Spruance in 2004, following The Richmond Times Dispatch news article. That was also the first time the agency learned about water contamination from 1991 or earlier.

According to the USW, environmental agencies need to determine if PFOA is still present in wastewater discharges or has contaminated groundwater beneath the plant. The USW represents 1800 workers at DuPont and 850,000 in the U.S. and Canada, and is the largest industrial union in North America.

Source: United Steelworkers

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