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Wood water woes may be worse Contamination may be more

Published: Sunday, March 17, 2002
Page: P1A
Byline: Ken Ward Jr. Last week, DuPont Co. officials announced that they would replace drinking water for all Parkersburg-area residents whose water contains more than 14 parts per billion of a mysterious chemical called C-8.

But public records and DuPont's own studies indicate that much smaller concentrations of C-8 than that could cause a variety of serious health problems.

For more than a decade, internal DuPont policy has mandated a "community exposure guideline," or CEG, of 1 part per billion, according to documents on file with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

C-8 is another name for ammonium perfluorooctanoate. At its Washington Works factory outside Parkersburg, DuPont uses C-8 to make polymers that are later used in the production of Teflon.

Last November, state and federal agencies formed a team to investigate concerns that C-8 from Washington Works had polluted water supplies in Wood County and across the river in Ohio.

In a new deal with federal regulators, DuPont said Tuesday it would provide a new water source for anyone whose water contained more than 14 parts per billion of the C-8.

Concentrations of C-8 greater than 14 parts per billion "may present an imminent and substantial endangerment" to public health, according to a consent order signed by DuPont and the EPA. EPA based that concentration on a study performed for DuPont by ENVIRON International Corp., the federal agency's consent order said.

The report, completed in January, does not mention the company's guideline of 1 part per billion for C-8.

C-8 has been found in public wells in concentrations ranging from 0.8 parts per billion to 7.7 parts per billion, according to EPA records.

C-8 has been found in water supplies that serve more than 20,000 people in the Wood County area, court records show.

Today, DuPont still maintains its 1 part per billion guideline for C-8.

Company officials said last week that doesn't mean that levels greater than 1 part per billion are dangerous.

"We believe that number is safe," said Robert Rickard, director of DuPont's Haskell Laboratory of Industrial Toxicology.

"We're not saying that above that number is not safe," Rickard said Thursday. "We don't know what the number is that might not be safe, because we've never had any adverse health effects from C-8." Actually, DuPont has evidence that exposure to even very small amounts of C-8 is hazardous, according to documents filed as part of a lawsuit over water contamination from the Washington Works plant.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Jack W. Leach and other residents said that DuPont had "confirmed by at least 1961 that C-8 was toxic in animals and caused observable changes in certain organ functions." Citing internal DuPont records dating back to 1978, the residents' lawyers said that DuPont was "disturbed" that tests revealed that C-8 might be causing "toxic" effects among some of the Washington Works employees.

"DuPont decided that this new toxicity information would not, however, be disclosed outside the company except 'on a need to know basis' and that DuPont would not 'be informing the appropriate regulatory agencies of this situation,' " the residents' lawyers told Wood County Circuit Judge George W. Hill in a legal brief.

In 1982, DuPont's director of employee relations recommended to management that all "available steps be taken to reduce this [C-8] exposure." Among other things, all "employees, not just Teflon area workers, are exposed" and "there is obviously great potential for current or future exposure of members of the local community from emissions leaving the plant perimeter," the director said, according to court records filed in Wood County last week.

The residents are represented by the Charleston firms of Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler and Winter, Johnson & Hill, and the Cincinnati firm Taft, Stettinus & Hollister.

"DuPont has taken steps to purposely and intentionally conceal from the public the fact that C-8 has been detected in the human drinking water supplies at levels exceeding DuPont's 1 ppb CEG for C-8 in drinking water," the lawsuit alleges.

DuPont officials and EPA representatives say that the company's internal CEG is not designed to mean the same thing as the "screening level" of 14 parts per billion EPA agreed to for well water replacement.

"It is not a health-based or safety-based limit," said Dawn Jackson, a public relations spokeswoman at the Washington Works plant. "It is an internal management tool. It is just a signal to the company to take a look at a set of circumstances and determine whether anything should be done." However, documents filed with EPA show that DuPont and its Haskell lab defined a community exposure guideline this way: "The CEG assumes a 24-hour lifetime exposure by all, including the most sensitive individuals, in an exposed community population. Exposure above the CEG will not necessarily result in any adverse effects. Where data indicates that the CEG may be approached or exceeded, Haskell, the appropriate Business and Legal will evaluate what action, if any should be taken. It is the company's intent to maintain exposure below the CEG." Settlement In August 2001, DuPont settled out of court a case brought by the Winter and Taft firm.

Wilber and Sandra Tennant alleged that C-8 pollution made them sick and killed hundreds of their cattle.

Before the case was settled, Rob Bilott, one of the Tennants' lawyers, asked EPA in a letter to "immediately cease all manufacturing activities" involving C-8. Bilott's letter outlined the history of DuPont's involvement with studies on C-8's potential health effects.

After the letter was written, DuPont lawyer John Tinney sought a court order to block Bilott and other plaintiffs' lawyers from discussing the C-8 issue publicly. In court papers, Tinney complained that Bilott's letter to EPA "could easily reach the mass media." Such publicity, Tinney said, "would result in a bias against DuPont at the trial of this matter." U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin refused to gag Bilott and the other lawyers.

No EPA regulation Despite its dangers, C-8 is not among the chemicals that EPA or other federal agencies regulates. There are no formal exposure limits or pollution restrictions. Of the thousands of chemicals used in modern society, only a few hundred are actually regulated.

In November 2001, the Wise administration signed a C-8 agreement with DuPont. Officials from DEP and the state Department of Health and Human Resources would work with the company to study C-8.

"The public needs assurance as to the safety of their environment," DEP General Counsel Bill Adams said at the time. "This order will go a long way toward giving people that assurance." DEP Secretary Michael Callaghan put his newly hired science adviser, Dee Ann Staats, in charge of the study project. Staats did not return phone calls last week.

Since that November agreement, officials in West Virginia and Ohio have expanded their tests of public water supplies for C-8 to a 60-mile stretch along the Ohio River.

Starting as early as last week, tests from 137 private wells downstream from the DuPont plant were to be mailed to residents.

DuPont public relations officials have launched a Web site they say provides plant neighbors with solid information about the C-8 issue.

"As a longtime member of the Mid-Ohio Valley community, DuPont is dedicated to sharing with other community residents important information about its operations," says the site,

Under the heading, "Quick C-8 Facts," the site says, "Although existing data do not show an association between C-8 exposure and adverse human health effects, DuPont is cooperating with federal agencies in their work to agree on human health-based screening levels for C-8." In its consent order with DuPont, EPA disagreed.

"Studies performed by DuPont and Minnesota Manufacturing Corporation (a manufacturer of C-8)("3M") have determined that C-8 in sufficient doses, i.e., considering both amount and duration of exposure, is toxic to animals through ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact," the consent order said.

"Studies have also found that C-8 is persistent in humans and the environment. EPA is conducting a preliminary hazard assessment of C-8 under the Toxic Substances Control Act." EPA Regional Administrator Don Welsh signed that consent order on March 7. Five days later, EPA issued a news release to announce the move.

"This consent agreement is a proactive approach involving the cooperation of the state and federal governments, and private industry to ensure residents a safe drinking water supply," Welsh said in the release.

Under the EPA consent order, DuPont agreed to provide a temporary, new water supply for anyone whose supply is found to have concentrations of C-8 greater than 14 parts per billion.

DuPont agreed to provide a new, permanent water supply for anyone whose water is found to have levels of C-8 greater than the "screening level" developed under DuPont's separate deal with the state DEP. Under the DEP agreement, DuPont will help state and federal regulators develop that screening level. The screening level is defined as "the concentration in a specific media such as air, water, or soil, that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime in the human population." In an interview last week, EPA officials said they just don't know how much C-8 is dangerous.

"It basically isn't a regulated chemical," said Karen Johnson, chief of the safe drinking water branch at EPA's regional office in Philadelphia. "So we don't have a lot of information about it." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

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