DuPont Settles EPA Case on Teflon Chemical

The company DuPont has agreed to pay $10 million in fines for not reporting safety data about one if its chemicals to the government. The chemical is called PFOA, is used to make Teflon and does not seem to break down in the environment.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

DuPont has agreed to pay $10 million in fines for not reporting safety data about one of its chemicals. DuPont uses the chemical to make Teflon, and while it has not been shown to be a health risk, it seems to hang around forever, and it's even turned up in Arctic polar bears. Here's NPR's David Kestenbaum.

DAVID KESTENBAUM reporting:

The Environmental Protection Agency has been studying the chemical called PFOA, P-F-O-A, to see if it needs to be regulated. DuPont uses PFOA to make Teflon at a plant in West Virginia, and by law, DuPont is required to report any information that indicates a chemical may pose a substantial risk of injury to humans or to the environment. Granta Nakayama with the EPA says that DuPont did not do that.

Mr. GRANTA NAKAYAMA (EPA): DuPont's most serious reporting violation relates to the substantial risk information that the company obtained in 1981 showing not only that a mother had transferred PFOA to her fetus during pregnancy, but also the rate of such transfer, as well as the levels of PFOA in a newborn and a two-year-old. This information should have been immediately reported to EPA under TSCA Section 8(e).

KESTENBAUM: The EPA announced it intended to fine DuPont last year and said the amount could be as much as $300 million. DuPont has agreed to pay a lot less, 10 million in fines and an additional 6 million to fund two projects, one of which looks at how PFOA might be getting into the environment. Granta Nakayama said the fine sends a strong message.

Mr. NAKAYAMA: The $10.25 million civil penalty that DuPont has agreed to pay is the largest civil administrative penalty EPA has ever obtained under any environmental statute.

KESTENBAUM: DuPont, however, says the message sent by the fine is merely confusing. Stacey Mobley is senior vice president and general counsel at DuPont. He says the company settled because it would have been too costly to fight.

Mr. STACEY MOBLEY (Senior Vice President/General Counsel, DuPont): We just made the determination we would settle and get it behind us.

KESTENBAUM: So do you admit that those are documents you should have handed over to the EPA?

Mr. MOBLEY: No, we still disagree. We feel strongly about our position. EPA feels strongly about theirs, and one option would be to litigate this thing till the cows come home, but we didn't think that was going to be productive, so--but what we hope will happen as we get through this is that the agency will provide more guidance to industry in terms of what needs to be submitted.

KESTENBAUM: For instance, he says, it was already well-known that chemicals can be passed from a mother to her fetus, so DuPont's data would not have told the EPA anything new. Also, Mobley says there is no evidence that the chemical PFOA is harmful to humans. The EPA is keeping an eye on the chemical. PFOA does not seem to break down in the environment. PFOA has been found in people's blood around the country and in animals as far away as the Arctic Ocean. Richard Wiles is senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, which has been pushing the EPA to regulate the chemical. He says DuPont got off easy and the EPA failed the American public.

Mr. RICHARD WILES (Senior Vice President, Environmental Working Group): I guess the question is, you know, what is the right fine for a $25 billion company that pollutes the blood of every American with an indestructible chemical that causes cancer and birth defects in animal studies? I mean, we think it's certainly more than $16 million, which is less than one-half of 1 percent of the profits that the company made during the time that they were hiding this information from EPA.

KESTENBAUM: This summer, an EPA advisory panel recommended calling the chemical a likely carcinogen--that is, likely to be able to cause cancer in humans at some dose. Susan Hazen, an EPA official, said the agency so far had no information suggesting there were significant human health impacts. David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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