Earlier this year, the EPA released a draft assessment of a chemical used in the production of Teflon which, based on animal studies, found “suggestive evidence” that the substance may be a human carcinogen.
For the past two years, there has been a growing concern over the safety of the manmade chemical known as C-8 or PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which can be found in everything from bread to birds, green beans to ground beef, dolphins to drinking water, and in the blood of up to 96% of the population of the United States.

The acid is used to manufacture Teflon coating for cookware and hundreds of other products like telephone cables, carpets, clothing, computer chips, chemical piping, and automobile fuel systems. Since there are no known “natural” sources of C-8, scientists are curious as to how the chemical enters the environment. C-8 has also contaminated the groundwater in areas where Teflon is manufactured.  

DuPont, which pioneered the development of PFOA and continues to dominate its use, claims that the chemical is harmless to humans. It also disputes that C-8 is released during normal cooking (as opposed to overheating).
Others are not so sure that either assertion is true. Studies have concluded that C-8 is one of several toxic gases released by Teflon when it is heated to temperatures which, at their low end, are only slightly above normal cooking temperatures.

C-8 has been shown to cause tumors in rats and fumes from Teflon coated cookware can cause what is known as “polymer fume fever,” a condition which has been shown to kill birds even at low temperatures but which DuPont claims is harmless to humans if the cookware is used at a temperature of up to 500F. When Teflon is overheated (above 700F), fatal cases of polymer fume fever in humans have occurred (at 842F).
In 2005, however, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that tests on laboratory animals linked PFOA to liver, pancreatic, and testicular cancer, reduced birth weight, birth defects, and immune suppression. The EPA also found that elevated cholesterol and triglycerides were a risk of exposure to C-8.

As a result, the EPA stated that low-level exposure to PFOA could pose a “potential risk of developmental and other adverse effects” in humans. DuPont also agreed to pay up to $343 million in settlement of a class action arising out of the contamination of drinking water in Ohio and West Virginia and plans to dramatically decrease the use of PFOA in Teflon coatings by the end of 2006.

In May, the Justice Department has issued grand jury subpoenas seeking documents from DuPont with respect to PFOA and related chemical compounds. The suspicion is that DuPont withheld critical information concerning possible health risks posed by PFOA.

A 1961internal document indicated that DuPont scientists had already warned company executives to avoid human contact with PFOA. DuPont faces more than $300 million in fines if it is found guilty of withholding such information. Even DuPont’s shareholders are now demanding that the company fully disclose all legal and expert fees, media and lobbying expenses related to PFOA.

Dupont is attempting to settle the EPA claim for some $15 million, but no agreement has been finalized.
Now, however, the complexion of the entire issue has changed as a result of a draft report released by an independent EPA scientific advisory board which reviewed the earlier EPA assessment. The new report, which will now be submitted to the EPA, concluded that PFOA (C-8) is “likely” to be a human carcinogen and, as a result, the EPA should conduct cancer risk assessments for a variety of tumors found in rats and mice exposed to it.

This latest finding is seen by environmental advocacy groups as significant since it will increase the pressure on the EPA to conduct human health risk assessments for a variety of cancers as well as potential toxic effects on the human immune system .

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