MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. The Environmental Protection Agency is calling on companies to dramatically reduce emissions of a long-lived chemical. The chemical called PFOA is used in the production of Teflon among other products. DuPont, which makes Teflon, says it will comply. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: The Environmental Protection Agency has been eyeing PFOA for a while. The chemical has not been proven to be harmful to humans. On the other hand it's turned up in human blood and even in Arctic polar bears. And it does not seem to degrade in the environment. Susan Hazen, an Assistant Administrator for the EPA, said there was no sense in waiting.
SUSAN HAZEN: This stewardship program will virtually eliminate PFOA and its precursor chemicals in the environment by 2015. In real terms what that means is there will be no continued loadings to the environment of PFOA. Having that happen now rather than waiting for a number of years is a very, very positive action and we're very anxious to get this underway and have this started.
KESTENBAUM: The program, which is voluntary, calls on companies to reduce the amount of PFOA released into the environment and the amount in products by 95 percent. That's relative to levels in 2000, and to achieve that by the year 2010. The EPA is also asking companies to stop PFOA from getting into the environment entirely by 2015. Eight companies use PFOA. One of them is DuPont, which has previously clashed with the EPA. Last year the agency announced it would fine DuPont for failing to report safety information about the chemical. DuPont maintained it did nothing wrong, but agreed to pay ten million dollars. Today David Booth with DuPont said the company would heed EPA's calls.
DAVID BOOTH: We understand that there are concerns because of the presence in blood of PFOA, and the fact that it's a persistent compound. And despite the fact that there have been no observed human health effects from exposure to PFOA we believe that this type of stewardship activity is the right thing to do and makes good common sense from an environmental standpoint.
KESTENBAUM: Booth says DuPont has already reduced the amount of PFOA that escapes by 94 percent and he says most products like Teflon don't have PFOA in them. It's primarily used as a manufacturing aid. Some scientists had hoped that companies like DuPont could find a replacement for PFOA, but Booth says the company plans to continue using it.
BOOTH: We have to have it to make floor products. They're used in critical industries like telecommunications, automotive for emission reductions and for production of semi-conductors. What we will focus on is not the elimination of PFOA because we've been working for over thirty years. I've looked at over a hundred candidates and so far have not found an acceptable substitute.
KESTENBAUM: The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization, has long accused DuPont of poisoning the blood of Americans. Today it had good things to say. Ken Cooke is the group's president.
KEN COOKE: We've been very harsh in singling out DuPont for criticism for its handling of PFOA, but today we also want to single out the company and commend them because they're exhibiting some real leadership here as we go forward.
KESTENBAUM: So what will happen to the PFOA already in the environment and in people? Well, in the year 2000 the company 3M stopped making its product Scotchgard because it used a related chemical. Scott Mayberry(ph) is an environmental chemist at the University of Toronto. He's been tracking the level of that chemical in the livers of arctic seals and he says the levels have been dropping ever since.
SCOTT MAYBERRY: Quite astounding that the arctic, in such a remote location, appears to have responded very rapidly to an industrial change, i.e. 3M's pulling their material back in 2000-2001. That's very heartening as well because it says if we do positive things, take positive action to cut off the tap, then the environment, even in remote regions, appears to respond quite rapidly in a positive direction. .. TEXT: KESTENBAUM: A chemical may be immortal, but it doesn't appear to hang around in the body forever. David Kestenbaum, NPR News, Washington.
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