Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Teflon chemical sticks to DuPont 107 million times

You may not have heard of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) but it has heard of you. You are probably carrying around 5 parts per billion of it in your blood serum at this moment, give or take a few ppb, as judged by measurements on populations of blood donors around the country. PFOA is one of the feedstock chemicals for Teflon and other non-stick polymers, made by DuPont and 3M. How it finds its way into virtually everyone in the country is still unknown, but people who work with it or live around factories that use it have much higher levels, by perhaps ten to thirty times. PFOA is just one of the so-called C8 chemicals that also appear in blood and the environment, although it is usually PFOA that is measured.

Is this a problem? It was for DuPont. Monday a judge in Charleston, West Virginia approved a $107.6 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit seeking damages for contaminating the class's drinking water supplies (WaPo). Some members of the class who drank the water had PFOA blood levels comparable to occupational exposures. PFOA is very persistent, with a half-life in humans of about 4 years. Even though levels in the water were relatively small (around 1 ppb since the early 1980s), it built up to levels over 100 ppb in many people tested. No health damages are being alleged, but part of the settlement will support medical monitoring and other health outcome studies, finance treatment equipment at the six water utilities and pay the legal fees and expenses of the plaintiffs (20% of the settlement).

Naturally, DuPont denies any "wrongdoing" (isn't the preferred phrase these days, "evildoing"?). They don't want to go to the expense of litigating the matter. Yeah, right. Since when has this made a difference to a chemical giant like DuPont, especially when it sets a precedent?

There is still much to know about the health effects of C8 exposure. PFOA is a known carcinogen in rats and some evidence from epidemiological studies suggests the same might be true for humans. In addition, developmental, immunotoxic and cardiovascular effects have also been seen, sometimes in animal models or test tube experiments, and in the case of lipid (fat) metabolism, in humans.

Something else for all of us to worry about. If we could only get the neocons to be as interested in these threats as they are in the ones they make up out of whole cloth, just think . . .

what? huh? Mrs. R. just poked me. I guess I was dreaming.