How Teflon Got Stuck: A Policy Analysis Call
12:00 pm US Eastern Time
This call was a discussion of what motivated the EPA to act on pushing for the elimination of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from products such as Teflon, and what led to DuPont's decision to phase these chemicals out of their production lines.
Call Moderator: Charlotte Brody, Executive Director, Commonweal
- Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action
- Sanford Lewis, Attorney for DuPont Shareholders for Fair Value
- Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President, Environmental Working Group
- April Dreeke, Researcher, Strategic Campaigns Department, United Steelworkers of America
1. Welcome and Introduction: Eleni Sotos, MA, CHE National Coordinator, and Charlotte Brody, RN, Executive Director, Commonweal
2. First Speaker: Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President, Environmental Working Group
What got us involved was that we read in the newspaper that 3M had voluntarily phased out the active ingredient in Scotchgard, which is related to PFOA. And that just got us curious as to why a company would do that. Why would you phase out—voluntarily get rid of—the active ingredient in your most-popular product? I mean probably no one’s ever heard of anything else that 3M ever made, except Scotchgard. So that just made us curious. What is that? Why is that?
So we went to EPA and sort of engaged in a very nerdy kind of thing that we do here, sometimes. We just went in and we got the entire scientific record at EPA—what they call the "docket," which was 30,000 pages of—literally, 30,000 pages of—science and correspondence back-and-forth on this issue.
We quickly learned that here was this whole group of chemicals that we didn’t know anything about. The PFC’s, Perfluorochemicals - the fluorinated chemistry that was sort of the backbone of Teflon and Scotchgard and all of these chemicals that are in hundreds if not thousands of consumer products, that everybody runs into in their daily lives, from Gortex to Stainmaster to Teflon and on and on and on and on.
I guess some of the things that we did—and the first project we did, I guess—was called, "It’s a PFC World." This basically was just our attempt to review the science and to try to sort of understand what was going on here. When you looked at the science, it was really scary. The reason for the phase out was the fact that in an animal study done by 3M - I guess they fed this stuff to monkeys, I believe it was - but in any event, at the high dose, all the animals were born healthy, and in 3 days, half the animals just mysteriously died. This led even EPA to say, "We may have an adverse effect, here." And so, they quickly got together with 3M and got rid of this thing.
So we looked at the science and from there, we were sort of led to the PFOA—which was the Teflon ingredient. And I’ll just give you some of the highlights of what happened over the next couple of years - some of the sort of key components of the campaign, if you will.
One was this—in addition to, of course, the science—we won’t bore everybody with that, but we spent a lot of time on that. Another really important component that kept it in the media was the litigation in West Virginia, where Dupont basically made Teflon - in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Now, Dupont got into the PFOA business after 3M got out. Their decision was, "Yes. These are some pretty nasty chemicals, but what the heck? Here’s a big market opportunity. So we're going to actually get into the business of making PFOA ourselves, and we're going to continue using it, even as 3M is completely abandoning it."
So, the situation there was groundwater contamination with the Teflon chemical. The community basically sued Dupont, and there were—of course—lawyers involved. The lawyers there were very creative, and we were lucky enough to hook up with them. Over the next year, after we sort of had been able to raise the science issue, we were able to work with these lawyers and the citizens in that community to get our hands on all sorts of internal documents from Dupont. So the first step was sort of the basic—science - and that interested a whole set of reporters, and sort of raised the issue that way, and there is clearly emerging science here.
But the next step that really kept this issue in the press was our ability to sort of collaborate at arms-length with attorneys who were getting documents in the context of this litigation, and feeding them to EPA through this public docket. Sort of making the documents that they got from the litigation available to the public—and giving us a heads-up as to when that was happening.
That led to our filing - to petitioning - EPA to bring charges against Dupont for, basically, violation of the one component of federal toxics law that has any teeth, which is basically a requirement to inform the agency when there are adverse effects caused by your chemical. And what we were able to find in working with these lawyers was that Dupont had actually monitored female workers at their plant for PFOA - and pregnant women who worked in the plant - monitored their umbilical cord blood for these chemicals, and found them to be present in the umbilical cord blood of these women, and in the babies themselves. Two of nine live births in those women were born with birth defects that at the time, Dupont had very strong reason to suspect were associated with these Teflon chemicals.
They failed to report any of this to EPA, at the time. They didn’t report it. I don’t think they still have reported it. We reported it, along with these attorneys. We suggested to EPA quite strongly, and petitioned, that they should file litigation charges against Dupont. And they did that, and actually were successful in fining Dupont a paltry amount—but in any event - they fined them, I think $10 million for that, in addition to $6 million tacked onto these studies.
But in any event, in terms of keeping the issue in the public eye and also keeping Dupont nervous about this, particularly around that plant and in the local media in West Virginia and Ohio where the water was contaminated, this particular strategy was really quite effective. I think for several years, it was really the only thing that kept this issue at least in play from our perspective. Ultimately it gave us an opportunity to do a few things that we wanted to do, which was, basically - the main thing was to keep the word, "Teflon," out there, with negative imagery around it, and to keep Dupont aware of the fact that we were going to do anything that we could to keep this issue in play.
Now, the next phase was sort of the body-burden phase, if you will, when we began to test people for this. We had tested 9 adults, I think. I don’t know when it was, 2001, and in that cohort, we didn’t look for PFC’s. I think we got cord blood samples from August and September 2004, and tested them for a number of different chemicals, including the PFC’s. It was sort of the first time that anyone had ever looked in cord blood for these chemicals. We found a number of different - I forget exactly what the number was - 9 out of 12 possible Perfluoro chemicals in that cord blood, and published those findings, I think, last summer. It obviously kept the issue front-and-center.
As EPA was moving along through the sort of settlement phase on this case that they brought against Dupont for withholding the information on the pregnant women and babies with the birth defects. So that was another component of the strategy, which is a sort of hardcore science approach to go out and do some cutting-edge work, using what I think everyone would agree on - the idea that we just should not have babies born pre-polluted with Teflon chemicals, and these chemicals that are completely untested, and I think obviously everyone could agree are not safe.
That was a tactic that I won’t belabor. I think everybody’s aware of it, but to be able to use science like that to keep your message in the press is something that we need to keep doing. It was very effective. It was incredibly annoying to Dupont. It’s a place they don’t want to be. They don’t want to have to talk about that. They don’t want to have to defend the presence of their chemicals in the unborn babies, when they're also defending the fact that they lied about what it would do to those unborn babies, when it was found in their workers' blood.
So we kept that going. We also were lucky enough to actually find one of those babies, who now is a young man in his early 20’s, and who was willing to actually go on-camera and talk about these things. During the process of this campaign, we had developed a relationship with ABC News, and Brian Ross, who’s their chief investigative reporter, there. They did a number of different big, high-profile stories on this. One on 20/20, I think - I can’t remember what the heck the news magazine show was that it was on, but it was a long 15-minute piece, and then several times on Nightly News. So they became invested in this issue, partly through the person of Bucky Bailey, who is the young man who has the facial birth defect, and also through the fact that the science was good. They were able to use tons of good visual images and talk about Teflon and things that actually made sense to people. So the story had all the components that they liked.
Sort of the last phase for us, at least in terms of how we were able to keep this issue alive with the media, which is really what our strategy is, is if we can just keep pounding them in the press, then ultimately, we can break through the science deadlock that Dupont is, of course, spending literally millions of dollars fabricating at EPA. Because as we're doing all this, there is an ongoing regulatory process or science risk-assessment going on at EPA, where Dupont’s principle strategy is to delay things by confounding the science, and going to endless meetings and those kinds of things.
The next phase, we were sort of lucky, in that we found a whistle-blower. This was a gentleman who worked at Dupont, as their top Teflon chemist and problem-solver for 20 years - a highly decorated Dupont employee who couldn’t take it any more. He knew that Dupont had lied about certain aspects of their Teflon paper coatings and their ability to leach out into foods, and that they were not playing it straight with FDA, that they withheld critical evidence from EPA. And that gave us one more shot to come back at this issue.
We know that when this was all over the news, and I won’t go into the magnitude of the coverage, but it was very significant. It really was, in some respects, the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of Dupont - they just had had it with Teflon getting stuck in negative press. I think that that had a lot to do with their willingness to come to the table and negotiate this deal to phase out PFOA over a decade, which of course, we all know is way too long. But it is some significant progress.
So those are some of the components from whistleblowers through lawyer documents, to just hardcore science and body burden testing, all designed to generate media. You can see it sort of moving around through different strategies, so that reporter fatigue does not become an issue, and people feel as though it’s a new story, even though it’s pounding back at the same core message—that these Teflon chemicals aren’t safe. I’ll leave it at that.
Charlotte Brody: Thank you, Richard. We’ll come back to talk about what’s next in the EWP strategy, in the question-and-answer period. Sandy Buchanan?
3. Second Speaker: Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action
Ohio Citizen Action is a 30-year old Kansas-based organization in Ohio, with 100,000 members. Our focus is on public health—and particularly, the reduction of exposures to toxics.
We do primarily corporate campaigns, which we also call "good neighbor" campaigns, that are direct pressure to try to get corporate decision-makers to change their ways.
We had already been involved in supporting some of the local communities in Southeast Ohio who had this in their drinking water. But of course, after talking with EWG about the fact that, "How is this getting into 95% of Americans, when we don’t all live next to Dupont?" Richard and others talked about the likelihood that food packaging was a source of exposure to people.
It would seem to us like an important way that we could become involved with consumer campaigns involving our members—which we've found in the past to be very effective, when we'd contact the retail industry.
We began, though, not knowing what products exactly this chemical was in. So originally, we did have our membership write letters to decision-makers. We did about 12,000 direct personal letters and sign-on letters to Dupont—who never answered one of them. But in the meanwhile, we were identifying the companies that might have this in their packaging. Of course, there is no labeling or right-to-know on this right now. Though hopefully, the Prop 65 decision will change that.
So we just took the direct approach, and wrote and called a number of fast food companies and food packagers, and asked them whether they used these types of coatings in their paper. We posted a chart on our website, showing who we had written, and when—and what deadlines we'd given them to respond. We actually got a surprising number of responses from companies, either saying they used it or they didn’t.
We were very interested in microwave popcorn, because the FDA studies had shown that that was a particularly likely way that this might be getting into people, and also because of the reaction from our members, when we would talk to them about ways in which the coatings were used. When we mentioned microwave popcorn, you'd get an immediate rise out of people, partly because even people who are health conscious are still eating microwave popcorn—thinking of it as a healthy snack. Tons of kids eat microwave popcorn. And, as we've learned form working with our canvassers—many of whom are in their early 20s—there's a whole generation of people who think that popcorn only comes out of the microwave.
So we were going through these letters from food companies. We got a letter back from ConAgra—the food-packaging giant—who defended their use of PFOA. They talked about how important it was that EPA and FDA said it was safe. And of course, this was in September. One of their big products was Orville Redenbacher Popcorn. In a discussion with Richard, we all decided that this was a thing to zero in on.
We made a canvas flyer. The headline is, "Orville Redenbacher is premium popcorn. Guess what the premium is?" It talked about, of course, C8. We launched our campaign in Columbus, Ohio—for a couple of reasons. One is that Columbus is a widely known test market for food companies. When McDonald’s, for example, rolls out a new product, they try it out in Columbus, first. Trends there are closely watched by many retailers.
We also started in Columbus, because we figured there would be a lot more public awareness of the Teflon C8 issues, because of all the media coverage on the Southeast Ohio and West Virginia drinking water contamination. We actually were wrong. It turned out that once we spread the campaign statewide, that everybody was aware of Teflon and C8 much more so than we had thought when we began the campaign, and I think that was due to tremendous media coverage.
What we did was ask people to write letters to their local grocery store managers, telling them how much a week they spend at their store, telling them that they don’t want to be having their families be exposed to this kind of chemical. It was not a boycott. We knew we didn’t really have the wherewithal to do a boycott, and we did not think that would be necessary to get a reaction, but we did specifically mention the Orville Redenbacher popcorn.
We eventually also did roll this out in the Cincinnati area, where Kroger’s, the largest grocery store chain in the country, is headquartered. And also into Cleveland, which of course, is a really big market.
Ultimately, we got about 13,500 personal letters to grocery store managers, and then sign-on letters to corporate headquarters, which we do through our phone canvas. We would hand-deliver or mail those letters to the grocery stores, and got some really quick reactions. We would find that—for example—even after just one letter to a grocery store manager in Cincinnati, he immediately threw away all his own Teflon pans, and was talking to the corporate headquarters.
After about just 10 days of doing this, we received a threatening letter from ConAgra—from the same vice president who had written us telling us how they were happy to use the chemical threatening us, telling us that we were defaming Orville’s name, ordering us to cease and desist and to take the information down off of our website.
We put a lot of effort into our website, and have found it to be a very good tool in these corporate campaigns. If you go to Google and type in Dupont C8, ours is actually the first site that pops up. We knew that ConAgra was watching that, closely. We, of course, did not take the information off the website. We wrote them a letter back, with Richard’s help, and asked them a number of questions. Because we thought they were playing games with the chemical names and the brand names.
Sure enough, that was 3 months ago, and we've never heard back from them again. Although they did mention to the Wall Street Journal—with an article that came out after the phase-out was announced—that, "Yes, by the way," they do have "PFOA in their popcorn, but it’s just a trace impurity."
We started hearing back pretty quickly from the corporate headquarters of some of the grocery stores, whose store managers had raised issues with them. We had an interesting call from the vice president of Wal-Mart in Arkansas, who was the same person who was involved in some of the PVC decision-making that some of the groups had worked on - very interested in what they're going to do, and we're, of course, wanting them to turn out to be taking the lead on this. We'd love to see these big chains make the phase-out of the PFOA in food-packaging be the first order of business, now that the major phase-out decision’s been announced. So that’s what we're concentrating on, right now.
In terms of major pieces of information that were extremely important to us, in talking with the public, body-burden was key. To be able to tell people that it’s found in 95% of Americans—this was just a critical component of the campaign.
More recently, it was very important to be able to talk to people about Glenn Evers—the whistleblower—and his courage in coming forward and sort of verifying this whole idea that Dupont had hidden this information from the public. A terrific combination of organizations have worked on this campaign, and we're looking forward to continuing to the next step. Thank you.
4. Third Speaker: Sanford Lewis, Attorney, Dupont Shareholders for Fair Value
Dupont Shareholders for Fair Value is a group of Dupont shareholders, which has been organized by United Steelworkers as a shareholder of Dupont. It also includes Amalgamated Bank—Sisters of Mercy of Marian, Pennsylvania, and Green Century Funds.
The outlook of this group of shareholders is that—from a shareholder perspective, the management of Dupont has really been very shortsighted in its management of this whole issue of PFOA, over the last 20 years.
There's been a lack of precaution from a financial perspective, in that the company has really taken the short-term approach of not making changes—which may have, in the short-term have helped the company financially—but in the long-term, we think it’s been harmful to the bottom line of the company, in that it actually continues to pose harm. And we have yet to see the full costs on the bottom line.
The first thing that this group of shareholders did was file a shareholder resolution, which asked a very simple disclosure question, which is, "What have been the costs associated with this, and what have been the trends in the costs associated with managing this issue, over the last 20 years? What is it costing in PR and lawyers and scientists, et cetera?"
That shareholder resolution was last year. In the course of arguing for the shareholder resolution, we did a report. I prepared a report reviewing the company’s disclosures to shareholders.
The obvious question, based on EPA’s charges against Dupont, is, "If the company is concealing information from the EPA, is it also concealing information from investors? And if it’s doing that, is that having the effect of artificially propping up the share price?" That is—if investors knew what the management of the company knew, would they have rated the company lower than it was? And therefore, is this a kind of, essentially, a shareholder fraud? Because of all the liabilities and market risks that actually have, over the last year, seemed to have had some impact on the stock price of the company.
Well, in looking at this, and in looking at the rights of shareholders to disclosure by companies, of trends, events and uncertainties, it became pretty apparent that a lot of this information, certainly in the aggregate, it looked like the management of the company had really blindsided the investors to these risks.
This blindsiding in this instance is in the context of which there's been increasing attention at the level of SEC to the issue of environmental disclosure. I should say there's been increasing pressure on the SEC to do something about disclosure of these kinds of risks to investors. There've been GAO reports. There's been an NGO and foundation petition to the SEC on these issues. So this is an issue that falls right into a trend of really pressing the SEC, on this.
The next thing we did is we filed a complaint with the SEC on these issues. In particular, we flagged a series of things that we felt the management had not done a good job of disclosing to investors. That included market and regulatory risks, which are still to this day not being well-disclosed by the company—and which, even not only historically, but in recent years, there was a lot of important information that had not been brought to light for investors.
Another interesting issue is the distortion of the health impacts of PFOA. The Company—in its shareholder reports—likes to say, "We believe this is not harming human health." I've argued, and others have argued that that is not really a defensible distortion of the science, at this point. That with all the animal studies, with all the suggestions of human impacts at various sites, it is no longer defensible, even from a shareholder perspective, to simply say, "We believe there is no health impact," without giving more information.
Then, there are liability indicators that we felt the company needed to be disclosing. Things like blood and water tests that still have not yet, necessarily, been disclosed at various sites, that might show liabilities to come.
All of this information, we present to the SEC. And we had some follow-up correspondence with them, as Dupont’s share price dropped over the last year. And I have to say, we've gotten an unusual amount of attention from the SEC on this.
They had assigned an enforcement officer to it. But, as is usual with the SEC, what’s actually going on there with the investigation is largely blacked out from even our view. But it’s possible that the investigation is still ongoing on this. Certainly, we plan to continue corresponding with the SEC.
Then, to bring you up to date - this year, we filed another shareholder resolution. This time, calling on the company to expeditiously phase out the use of PFOA and PFOA precursors. This is slated for the AGM this May—the Annual General Meeting in May.
The company’s response to this, by the way, is that the EPA’s schedule is a rapid phase-out, their best approach to this. We think the reality is that it’s going to be too slow, from the standpoint of investors, that markets are going to escape the company, that liabilities will continue to mount. And so, the pressure from us, as well as from the markets, will continue to press the company for faster phase-out.
5. Fourth Speaker: April Dreeke, Researcher, Strategic Campaigns Department, United Steelworkers of America
Hello, everybody. I should say, I've been researching for PFOA for the Steelworkers, basically. We've been working on PFOA issues for about over a year. Just to clarify—if anyone’s been following this issue for a while—we used to be the Paper Allied Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers, but merged with the Steelworkers in April.
Real quickly, it seems like a great opportunity to give the other 3 people in the group on the phone tons of credit for anything I've learned on this issue. We have been able to take the information and act on the issues through our unique position as a representative of workers.
Today, I was going to discuss 4 major ways we've worked to hold Dupont accountable, make public awareness about this issue, and we're really pushing for an alternative for PFOA.
The first and foremost issue for us is for the health and safety of our workers. Undoubtedly, workers are the most-exposed to PFOA. It actually was Richard Wiles and the others at the Environmental Working Group that told us that not only are workers at Dupont exposed to high levels of PFOA, but it’s also our paper workers we represent.
We represent about 1,800 workers at Dupont. We represent workers at the depot out of New Jersey plant, where they make telomers—which include name brands like Zonyl, Teflon Advanced and Stainmaster. Then we also represent tens of thousands of paper workers, who may be applying Zonyl and other telomers onto paper products.
The first thing we did, when we learned this information, was surveyed our locals in the paper industry. We wanted to find out if they were applying Zonyl to paper products. It was very, very interesting. We talked to our representatives at the site, and we heard stories that they didn’t even wear protective equipment, that they would scoop up the Zonyl with buckets and bare hands. We even got calls from non-union shops that made medical supplies, and they gave us kind of the same story. These are stories, but they're based on… They hadn’t gotten any information that this could possibly be toxic -Zonyl or PFOA.
But on the other hand, at the Dupont plant where the telomers are made, our workers wear head-to-toe protective gear. And they have their PFOA levels taken. Actually, we don’t really know the results of what Dupont’s blood levels are at this plant, and we really don’t trust any Dupont blood testing. We don’t trust what they're telling our workers—especially since they didn’t even tell people at the paper plants that this might be a hazardous chemical.
So we recently have tested the blood of our own members. We've done this at the depot out of New Jersey plant and at a plant in New York, and a plant in Ohio - two paper plants. We found that these workers have levels of PFOA in their blood 100 times higher than the general population. We're just now going public with this information, and everyone should be hearing stories soon.
So our next activities also have been for public awareness. We have researched and called public attention to possible leaks of PFOA in groundwater, lakes, ponds, streams and rivers from Dupont’s plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in Circleville, Ohio and other sites.
We found especially in Fayetteville, Dupont knew about PFOA leaking from their state-of-the-art facility a few months after it became the sole US producer of PFOA. So we came public with this information. We tested the water, and as it progressed, Dupont came out and said that PFOA was found in at least one drinking well near the plant.
So after our work in Fayetteville, residents are finally aware of both the pollution around the plant, and the likely toxicity of PFOA. They're concerned - they don’t want another repeat of what happened at Parkersburg, West Virginia, in the area. We also found pollution in Circleville, Ohio, and other sites, and we're working to bring public awareness around those sites.
Thirdly, our next way we've dealt with this issue is on the consumer front. We have sent over 40,000 letters and information circulars to clothing, cookware, microwave popcorn, food, cosmetics, outerwear and carpet manufacturers—as well as retailers. We've urged them to warn their customers of the potential toxicity of all these Teflon-related chemicals.
This includes companies like McDonald’s, we've done Wal-Mart, Banana Republic, Sally Hansen, Commander Foods. And that is because we've worked closely with Ohio Citizen Action on this as well.
The fourth thing we've done is big news, and new news. We filed a petition with the State of California. We did this with several other environmental groups—including Environmental Working Group—to list PFOA as a chemical that is known to the State to cause cancer under Proposition 65.
So real quick—I'm guessing a lot of people know what Proposition 65 is, but it’s a right-to-know law. We believe that if PFOA is listed as a carcinogen under the law, businesses would be prohibited from knowingly discharging the chemical into sources of drinking water. Then they would be required to provide warnings before knowingly exposing anyone to PFOA—unless they can show that the exposure creates no significant risks. This is a great law, because it puts the burden of proof on the company. They have to prove that the risk to the cancer-causing element is insignificant and that the public right-to-know is un-necessary.
So our petition to the State of California is highly representative of our entire campaign. It brought together all our beliefs about PFOA. We believe the public has the right to know about the exposures to toxins through plant pollution or consumer products. We believe that companies have a duty to warn. And mostly, we believe the safer alternative should be used.
So, Prop 65 has influenced companies in the past to create and use alternatives, probably faster than they would have without the progressive law. So we hope we can do that again with PFOA.
In our view, 2015 is too late. I'm talking about EPA’s PFOA program, where they're going to phase out PFOA in products and emissions—in about 10 years. We think 10 years is too long for exposure without warning.
We believe that the program is a big first-step forward. It’s pre-emptive in approach for any chemical suspected to be a toxin. But it’s not a ban. To us, that’s important. It’s not quick enough. We have concerns that it’s not a ban, for two reasons, actually. Let me just say that first, Dupont has made promises to reduce its emissions from plants, before. We saw it in Fayetteville, North Carolina, despite the company spending 7 million on environmental controls, PFOA and Telomers facility. It’s filling up the air, soil and water. It’s spreading beyond the plant’s perimeter.
So considering PFOA has not been shown to break down, we should be concerned by even the warning 5% emissions still released from the plant for the next 10 years. Secondly, our second concern—without having a ban to this chemical, is back to our first-and-foremost concern. Workers are still going to be exposed unless it’s banned from the plant, unless Dupont creates an alternative.
We believe EPA’s moving too slowly on making sure that Dupont and other manufacturers of PFOA are held accountable, and that workers and the public will be protected. And we believe Dupont must aggressively pursue alternatives to both PFOA and telomers. And in doing that, the company must ensure the workers engaged in current telomer production will also produce and new and safer alternative.
The United Steelworkers have always had a strong environmental position. We understand that employers that do not respect the environment are putting jobs and health and safety at risk. So we're going to be very diligent about this issue, probably along with the other groups on the phone. We will continue to do the activities that we've described, to ensure proper regulation and corporate accountability. Thanks.
Charlotte Brody: Thanks, April. And thanks to all of the speakers, and to everyone listening, for your patience with the various noises and latte orders on the call.
6. Discussion and Q&A
Lin Chary: I have a question. I think it’s maybe for the Environmental Working Group. It may sound like a naive question, but how is it that—given the new chemicals regulations and TOSCA and just the regulations that do exist… Was this chemical grandfathered? How is it that it has been…? Is it because Dupont hid it and lied about it that it was able to reach the extent that it has? I mean it seems that given our knowledge and experience with chemicals like PCBs and others, this whole thing shouldn’t have happened. I guess I'm asking that to inform how we deal with the policy around these chemicals.
Richard Wiles: Well, The main reason is that first of all, it was grandfathered in. It was in production well before TOSCA was passed. I'm very skeptical as to whatever or not Tosca’s significant [inaudible] neutral or the way that they look at new chemicals would have found problems with these chemicals. But perhaps it would have. Certainly, any knowledge that anyone would have about PCBs or those kinds of chlorinated persistent toxic carcinogenic [fluorochemicals] and developmental toxins wouldn’t have really given you any insight into these chemicals. They have a totally different chemistry and totally sort of different set of properties.
Just one example - PFOA is the most-persistent chemical ever made, in the history of global industry. It does not break down in the environment—period—ever. Nothing breaks it down. I mean if you throw it into the incinerator, you’ll break it down. But every molecule ever made will be with us forever.
PCBs are considered to be persistent, but they do break down. It may take 100 years to get rid of all PCBs…
Lin Chary: I wasn’t asking so much in terms of the relative properties of the chemical. But…
Richard Wiles: But that’s why they wouldn’t recognize it. If you're looking at it just because you thought PCBs were bad, you wouldn’t look at this and say, "Oh, therefore, this is bad." Because it’s totally different. And they have no… But without the authority to ask for the tests that you need to determine how bad it is, which is the current situation, there's nothing that is intuitively going to make you think these are bad. Only when the independent scientists began to find them in the environment and show their persistence, and independent scientists began to study. And then ultimately, industry sort of began to monitor their works. Over time, did some studies, did it come to anybody’s attention that these things—for example—were really potent developmental toxins. That was what sort of set the ball rolling, was the developmental studies done by 3M.
On the other hand, there are cancer studies that were done by industry in the 80s, that under our review, show that this thing is a serious carcinogen. And the EPA’s science advisory board just decided last week that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen. Those studies have been around for 20 years. But EPA has no authority to get them out of industry. They have no authority to look at them.
The law is so fundamentally broken that just because there is this one provision allowing review of significant new uses and those kinds of things—it’s just not anywhere near enough to test these things.
Susan McDonald: I work for King County Government in Seattle. I'm very impressed with what the speakers have told us. It’s been really inspiring. And I'm sitting here trying to figure out what an appropriate role would be for local government, in terms of working on these kinds of campaigns. That’s specifically for Sandy, and I would say Richard.
Sandy Buchanan: Well, one thing I would think in a situation like this, would be to try to figure out are there any ways in which—as the local government—you're using or purchasing any of these coated papers? And then, the government would say, "We are only going to use safer substitute," or tell their providers, "You've got to come up with something else." I mean that would be key in your purchasing role.
There's also, of course, a lot of education and support and… Depending on what your local government mechanisms might be fore working in the marketplace, I think all of those could be influential.
Susan McDonald: So, working in the marketplace?
Sandy Buchanan: I think that if you're purchasing—or if you have commissions that are dealing with groceries or foods, or foods that are supplied to schools, if you have it in the school regulations. I know it’s different in every place. But I think looking at the places where your citizens might be being exposed. Then if there's any way that you can tell the suppliers that you want a safer alternative.
Charlotte Brody: Sanford—April—Richard… Do you want to add to that?
Richard Wiles: Well, no. I think that is exactly the role that they could play. I don’t know anything about your budget or anything. There may be environmental testing that might be doable - groundwater testing and that kind of thing - if there were any facilities that used these chemicals, not in primary manufacturing of TFOA itself, but in any secondary industrial use. Carpet facilities and those kinds of things where a lot of this was used, you might find environmental contamination to be worth looking into.
I agree with Sandy on the purchasing. That’s a great way to send a signal. The stuff’s already been banned, basically. I mean it’s a 10-year phase-out, which is pathetic. But you won’t have to make the case that it’s dangerous and should be gotten rid of.
Judy Robinson: This is Judy Robinson, from the Environmental Health Fund. I wondered what role of availability of safer alternatives had or was needed in this effort. And if you didn’t have to use that argument that we, in fact, have safer alternatives to use—because the data said that it was so toxic… What is that? Why is it? Because it was so toxic.
I know that April talked a lot about the need for safer alternatives. Dupont has to come up with those, et cetera. Is there any role that the workers or others would play in defining what safer alternatives could be used?
April Dreeke: Workmen do not have direct control of that. We've heard that Dupont was creating a huge building in New Jersey to look for an alternative. But lately—I think because of the new policy initiatives—that’s been halted. Our argument’s always been that Dupont brags of the "miracles of science." They're this huge science company. So why can’t they think of an alternative?
There are alternatives on the market. I don’t know the science of them, and if they are the safest chemicals. But there are companies that do brag that there are alternatives to at least telomers. That basically has been our position on that.
Richard Wiles: We didn’t ever venture into the area of substitution. We sort of wasted the whole campaign on two components. One is this stuff is incredibly toxic and horrible and persistent. And two, the company is lying about it. Which was a very important addition.
We've looked into the paper products - there are alternatives. Some of them are made by big, evil people who have come in to seize this market opportunity, but they do look to be significantly safer. So we've just sort of relied on market forces.
We know that companies have been investing in alternatives for paper coating that's supposed to be a lot safer, for the past couple of years. Just sort of hoping that Dupont would take the guide on this.
Sanford Lewis: I would just add that what I've seen - I've been doing some research on this, on behalf of the shareholders - one thing I'm seeing is there are a lot of alternatives that seem to be entering the market right now, globally, because of the issues that are being raised around this.
Sandy Buchanan: Yes. It’s amazing how quickly that started to be talked about, after the phase-out was announced. It came up a lot in just conversations with normal people. Because we already had some companies telling us they weren’t using it, that was helpful. But also, some of these items are, frankly, luxury items. You don’t need these coated popcorn bags. You can put it in the microwave without it. So it’s fruitless to expose people to chemicals when you don’t need to.
Charlotte Brody: Well, thank you. It’s 9.59. I know I'm saying for everyone, thank you to our speakers. I thought this was a really interesting and quite informative conversation. I want to turn it back to Eleni, to do a couple of reminders, and thank everybody who was part of this call, for their participation.
Eleni Sotos: Thanks, Charlotte. I just want to quickly remind folks that our next call is this coming Tuesday—February 28th at 9 am PT, noon ET. We will be focusing on nanotechnology and environmental public health. If you're interested in joining that call, e-mail Julia. We look forward to your participation next week, and that will be all. Thanks, everyone, for joining us.