C-8 Is Widespread In The Environment. Why?
From: Robina Suwol
Date: 30 Nov 2003
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
C-8 IS WIDESPREAD IN THE ENVIRONMENT.
HOW DID IT GET THERE, AND SHOULD WE BE WORRIED?
By Fred Biddle and Jennifer Goldblatt, Staff Reporters Wilmington (DE) News
Journal. Nov. 23, 2003
A little-known manmade chemical is found in the tissue of living things around
It is in the flesh of dolphins and cormorants off the Italian coast.
It is in 5 percent of the bread, green beans and ground beef sampled in
supermarkets in southern states.
It is in the blood of up to 96 percent of people in the United States, a study
The chemical is known as C-8.
C-8 is used to make the DuPont Co.'s Teflon that coats cookware. It is also
released in the decomposition of fluorinated telomers, a
chemical used to make some fast-food wrappers resistant to grease. Teflon and
telomers are part of a family of fluorinated compounds pioneered and dominated
Scientists know of no other sources of C-8.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to know how C-8 enters the
environment and whether it's harmful. Recent evidence that C-8 exists in the
blood of most people led the agency to question whether the public health was
Much remains to be discovered about how C-8 gets into humans and whether it is
The News Journal interviewed dozens of experts and reviewed more than 100
scientific papers to understand what is known about the source and the health
effects of C-8, also known as PFOA, the initials of its chemical name,
DuPont has said it does not know why the chemical has become so pervasive,
acknowledging C-8 has been found in the blood of the general population at a
level five times the maximum the company strives to achieve in the air and
water around its factories where C-8 is made or used. DuPont said, however,
the C-8 levels pose no threat.
"In more than 50 years of use by DuPont and others, there have been no known
adverse human health effects associated with PFOA," Dr. Uma Chowdhry, DuPont's
global vice president for central research and development, testified to the
EPA in June.
The chemical causes cancer and birth defects in lab rats. But DuPont and
others that have made or used C-8 say it is harmless to people. That assurance
is based on decades of C-8 use with no evidence of ill effects, they said.
The EPA is conducting hearings that could lead to regulating or banning the
chemical. The agency could decide to leave the chemical unregulated.
The EPA hearings are being monitored by the Food and Drug Administration. The
FDA said it will use the findings to decide
whether to reconsider its decades-old approvals of Teflon on nonstick pans and
telomers in food packaging.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission also is attending the EPA hearings to
determine whether it should require warning labels or some other regulation
for Teflon-coated cookware. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention recently has proposed adding C-8 to the list of chemicals for which
it routinely screens blood.
C-8 has been made in only three locations in the United States over the past
half century. Because C-8 must come from a manmade source, the EPA plans to
trace C-8 from the time it is manufactured until after the products with
coatings linked to the chemical are thrown away. Agency officials have
stressed that the inquiry is in its early stages.
"It's premature and inappropriate to advise people to avoid these products,"
said Charles Auer, director of the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and
DISCOVERED BY DUPONT
The EPA's investigations focus on a family of chemicals that made DuPont a
household name. They played a key role in developing the atomic bomb and
DuPont's foray into this fluoropolymer chemistry began in 1938, with Roy
Plunkett's accidental discovery of polytetrafluoroethylene, the chemical
DuPont now sells as Teflon. That chemical eventually spawned a $2 billion
industry in the United States, where manufacturers include Asahi Glass
Fluoropolymers USA, Daikin America Inc. and Dyneon LLC.
What makes these products so strong is fluorine, which forms tight chemical
bonds with carbon in long molecular chains. C-8 is added to the compounds to
ensure that the chains will align properly and that the finished coatings will
have a slippery, nonstick quality.
The difficulty of working with fluoropolymers and concerns about polymer fume
fever made DuPont wary about commercializing Teflon for more than a decade
after Plunkett's discovery. The company didn't apply for FDA approval to use
Teflon on cookware until 1959.
DuPont continued to advance the chemistry in the 1960s when it developed
fluorinated telomers, which provide Teflon-like protection against dirt and
grease for textiles, carpets and papers. Fluorinated telomers are also based
on a chain of fluorine and carbon bonds.
Telomers have shorter molecular chains than Teflon, and that makes them more
applicable for objects like textiles, carpets and papers, where it is
important to retain the object's original appearance.
In 1967, the FDA approved Zonyl, DuPont's leading brand of fluorinated
telomers, for use in food packaging. It was a less costly
and less labor-intensive alternative to the waxed-based papers previously
used, which could not be recycled.
Telomers are even marketed under the Teflon brand in such applications as the
"Stain Defender" used on clothing. Fluorinated
telomers also are used in DuPont's own Stainmaster carpet brand and some
DuPont executives said that they don't know all the products coated with
fluorinated telomers because DuPont sells to intermediaries such as paper
companies, not end users such as fast-food companies. The intermediaries add
DuPont coatings to their food cartons, wrappers and other products.
TELOMERS POSE MYSTERY
EPA officials have said they think Teflon and fluorinated telomers could be a
source of C-8 in the environment.
DuPont disagrees. The company said it extracts all detectable C-8 from Teflon
during production and that its researchers have been unable to detect the
chemical in nonstick cookware.
DuPont said Teflon coatings cannot break down into C-8. The company also said
its studies have shown that hot foods in telomer-coated packaging could not
cause the release of C-8.
C-8 is not used to make fluorinated telomers. Recent scientific findings show
they break down into C-8, however. Scientists, including DuPont's, are baffled
about how that occurs.
"If you're asking me: Is that transformation possible? I guess the answer to
that question would be yes, it's possible," said Robert
Ritchie, a DuPont director of planning and technology. Company scientists also
said they don't know what chemical reactions occur to telomer-coated products
as they are used and thrown away, one focus of the EPA's inquiry.
Ritchie said that any C-8 release would be "very, very small" because of the
small amount of fluorinated telomers used to coat any item. "If we had any
reason to believe that was a safety issue for fluorinated telomers-based
products, we wouldn't have commercialized them," Ritchie said.
DuPont began studying whether telomers can emit C-8 in 1999.
"Telomers would not cause health effects under normal uses," said R. Clifton
Webb, a spokesman for DuPont. "Under normal uses, telomers are added in such
small amounts to finished consumer products that it is not probable for a
consumer to ingest or absorb these materials in the body at a dose that would
cause a health concern."
COOKWARE MAY BE SOURCE
Although fluorinated telomers are a central focus for the EPA, the agency also
has questioned whether nonstick cookware, which account for about 65 percent
of cookware sold in the United States, are giving off C-8 when they are
heated. Industry analysts said DuPont dominates the nonstick cookware coating
market, although DuPont won't disclose its share.
A study published in the British science journal Nature two years ago
concluded that C-8 was one of several toxic gases emitted by Teflon heated to
680 Fahrenheit and 932 F. Normal cooking temperatures can reach 536 degrees.
DuPont called the Nature study misleading.
"Any material, if heated to a high enough temperature, will decompose," the
company said in a news release following the release
of the Nature study. Even when Teflon decomposes, DuPont said its own research
shows that Teflon does not release C-8.
The University of Toronto researchers who conducted the Nature study defended
their work and said they expect to publish another study of Teflon. Their
recent research, which found several previously unknown fluorinated compounds,
underscores how little is understood about the decomposition of Teflon, said
Scott Mabury, one of the researchers and chairman of the university's
Regulators also want to know whether there are other Teflon coated products
that could be a source of C-8 in the environment.
The EPA plans to test Teflon pans and other Teflon-coated products, such as
shatter-resistant light bulbs and sealants used in military machinery. The EPA
also has ordered tests to determine whether products coated with fluorinated
telomers release C-8. The agency said it wants to gauge the potential for C-8
to be released at every stage of a product life cycle.
C-8 ENTERED WATER SUPPLY
The inquiry the EPA is conducting began as a groundwater pollution issue in
the Ohio River Valley. One source of C-8 contamination that no one disputes is
the Teflon manufacturing process.
DuPont has made Teflon at a plant near Parkersburg, W.Va., for more than 50
years. For most of that time, it has released C-8 into the adjacent Ohio
River, the air and local landfills.
In the late 1990s, the EPA joined Ohio and West Virginia environmental
regulators in an investigation of the resulting groundwater pollution around
the plant. The investigation found C-8 in the groundwater. As a result, DuPont
agreed to replace the drinking water of tens of thousands of area residents
should C-8 levels reach an agreed-upon level, which has not happened.
DuPont has separately pledged to reduce direct C-8 pollution 50 percent from
1999 levels nationwide by 2006. The voluntary pledge has now been incorporated
into a consent decree between DuPont and the EPA.
DuPont's unregulated emissions into the air and water from its Parkersburg
plant totaled about 20,000 pounds last year. In 1999, the most recent year for
which it provided records, the company also released nearly 10,000 pounds of
C-8 waste into the Delaware River. The waste was sent from Parkersburg for
treatment at the company's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, NJ
The EPA's concern over the groundwater contamination grew largely because of
animal and human studies conducted since the 1970s. Those studies found that
C-8 causes cancerous tumors in the pancreas, liver, mammary glands and
testicles of lab rats, as well as developmental problems.
DuPont said that although C-8 can cause tumors in rats, those results do not
mean it causes cancer in people.
3M STOPS PRODUCING C-8
Much of the research on how pervasive C-8 is in the environment and how it got
there was conducted by the 3M Co., which formerly supplied DuPont with C-8.
After decades of research, 3M announced in 2000 that it would stop selling
C-8, although the company continued to produce a small amount for its own use.
3M cited environmental concerns in its decision, including the fact that the
chemical is found in the blood of so many people. The company said, however,
it doesn't believe C-8 poses a risk to humans.
Since the mid-1970s, studies of blood donors and children participating in
clinical trials, conducted mostly by 3M, have found
C-8 in the vast majority of blood samples of people across the country. The
most recent 3M study showed C-8 in the blood of 96
percent of 528 children tested from 23 states and Washington, D.C.
3M has turned over the results of its studies to the EPA. The EPA said it
expanded its examination of C-8 in part because of 3M's blood studies.
EPA officials said 3M's decision to stop making C-8 for sale heightened the
agency's interest in the chemical.
"We were surprised but pleased the day 3M walked into a meeting with senior
EPA officials and said, 'We've decided to stop making perfluorooctyl
chemicals, including PFOS and PFOA, not only here in the U.S. but also
worldwide,'" the EPA's Auer said. "How often do you see a company respond in
such a forthright manner, especially given the economic and brand name
importance of this line of chemistry to 3M?"
As early as 1981, a 3M study published in the journal Analytical Biochemistry
found that lab rats fed fluorinated telomers metabolized them into C-8. A 3M
test completed a year ago, after 3M had withdrawn from the business, showed
that microorganisms in wastewater sludge broke down fluorinated telomers into
Following those studies, 3M withdrew entirely from selling the C-8 that feeds
the nonstick market. DuPont, which was not a manufacturer of C-8, needed a
supplier for the chemical necessary to make Teflon. It began making C-8 in
October 2002 at a plant in Fayetteville, N.C.
C-8'S EFFECT ON HUMANS
In addition to the finding that C-8 is widespread, scientific studies have
also found that C-8 doesn't break down in the environment and diminishes
slowly in the body.
A study 3M released last year of retirees who had worked near C-8 at one of
the company's plants concluded that it takes 4.4 years for the human body to
flush out one-half of the chemical it is exposed to at any given moment.
DuPont acknowledges that C-8 is persistent in the environment, but says that
should not be a human health concern.
"Presence of a substance alone does not support the conclusion that the
substance caused or likely caused an adverse human health effect," DuPont
wrote in a June letter to the EPA.
At the urging of the EPA earlier this year, DuPont and the fluoropolymer
industry agreed to conduct additional research to address the agency's
questions. DuPont has joined with the other makers of fluorinated telomers to
learn more about the chemicals.
The EPA is also gathering information on the temperatures reached in trash
incinerators because of the potential for C-8 air pollution from burned Teflon
and fluorinated telomer-coated products.
FDA officials have said they will consider the EPA's findings before deciding
whether to reconsider the agency's 40-year-old approval of Teflon for use in
"If any information is forthcoming which indicates that a food-related product
is unsafe, the agency will take the appropriate
action," said Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman, director of the division of food contact
DUPONT PROMOTES TEFLON
DuPont said it is confident Teflon and fluorinated telomers will survive the
Teflon and related products are part of businesses that collectively make up
less than 5 percent of DuPont's annual sales, which totaled $24.1 billion last
year. DuPont will not release sales or profit margins for its fluoropolymer
But Teflon is an important product to DuPont. The company has chosen
fluoropolymer compounds as the focus for the biggest image makeover in years.
Teflon fabric protector, nonstick coatings and Stainmaster carpet brands lead
a television and print ad campaign aimed at working mothers that DuPont
unveiled in July.
DuPont officials said they are confident that C-8 is safe.
"We stand by our position that exposure to low levels of PFOA does not pose a
risk to human health or the environment," DuPont spokesman Webb said. "In
fact, there are no known health or environmental effects associated with PFOA.
As we have said many times, there are more than 100 scientific studies,
conducted over more than 20 years, that support this position, as does worker
surveillance data from both DuPont and 3M employees."
WHAT IS C-8?
C-8 is a surfactant, or detergent-like material, used by DuPont and other
companies in the manufacture of fluoropolymer resins and
finishes, like Teflon.
The chemical has recently appeared in blood of up to 96 percent of people in
C-8 has been shown to cause cancer and birth defects in animals.
DuPont says that it hasn't observed adverse health effects in humans in the 52
years it has used the chemical.
WHAT THE EPA SAYS
Because studies show that C-8 causes cancer and developmental problems in rats
and is in the blood of most people, the EPA is
looking into how C-8 enters the environment and whether it's harmful to
WHAT THE FDA SAYS
The FDA is monitoring EPA's meetings dealing with C-8. If information
indicates that a food-related product is unsafe, the agency will act. The FDA
is also reviewing regulated products that may contribute to C-8 exposure. The
agency said it has no information any of these products are unsafe.
WHAT DUPONT SAYS
"We stand by our position that exposure to low levels of [C-8] does not pose a
risk to human health or the environment. In fact, there are no known health or
environmental effects associated with [C-8]."
* * *
Reach Jennifer Goldblatt at 324-2877 or
California Safe Schools
Last changed: March 14, 2006