Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Panel sticks it to EPA

There is so much important news these days that sometimes significant developments get overlooked. This week a panel of the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board presented their final draft report on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, also called C8), a chemical used in teflon and other no-stick and stain-resistant products. Environmentally persistent, it is has also found its way into almost every American's blood and tissues. In laboratory studies it is associated with developmental and reproductive effects, so EPA performed a risk assessment, a draft of which was reviewed by the SAB panel.

The final panel report reiterated its earlier draft findings that EPA's characterization that there was "suggestive evidence" that PFOA was a carcinogen was not strong enough, nor consistent with the way the agency's own descriptors were meant to be used. The panel said that "likely carcinogen" was more appropriate, given the evidence. The chief maker of PFOA, DuPont, naturally disagreed:
"We disagree with the panel's recommendation on the cancer classification, and we continue to support the EPA's draft risk assessment," said Robert Rickard, director of health and environmental sciences for DuPont.
"This reflects recommended classification; what's more important is risk, and we are confident that PFOA does not pose a cancer risk to the general public," added Rickard, who said the carcinogenicity classification was based on animal data and does not reflect data from human studies. (AP via Newsday)
Cancer effects were not the only places where the EPA's own panel of distinguished outside scientists parted ways with the agency. The majority of panelists also wished to have a more complete discussion of effects on the hormonal, immune and central nervous systems.
"The real outcome of this is the panel going back and saying `You've got to include this extra stuff here; it wasn't really a rigorous analysis," said Tim Kropp, senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization whose work has prompted increased government scrutiny of PFOA.

While the EPA is free to accept or reject the panel's recommendations, Kropp said it rare for the EPA to dismiss an advisory board's advice.

"They've asked them to do a more rigorous analysis, to do a more scientific method of determining risk, and you can't argue with that," he said. "That's just good science."


[In defense, the EPA's] Hazen and Peacock also pointed to an EPA initiative announced last week asking DuPont and seven other companies that manufacture or use PFOA, its precursors, and similar compounds to reduce environmental releases and levels of those chemicals in products by 95 percent no later than 2010, using the year 2000 as a baseline.

The EPA also wants the industry to work toward the elimination of PFOA and related chemicals from emissions and products by no later than 2015. (AP via Newsday)
Since virtually everyone reading this has measurable levels of PFOA whizzing around their systems, this all seems most appropriate. One wonders why the EPA had to be pushed by an outside panel like this. Or maybe one doesn't. Does one?

A .pdf of the panel's final draft report can be found here.