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Food wrappers have excess C8, engineer says
Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Byline: Ken Ward Jr.
email@example.com French-fry boxes, microwave popcorn bags and pet food containers could contain unsafe amounts of the toxic chemical C8, a longtime DuPont Co chemical engineer testified last year in a lawsuit against the company.
Glenn R. Evers, who left DuPont in 2002, said the company discovered the problem but did nothing about it.
"We were out of compliance," said Evers, who received an internal DuPont e-mail that described the findings of a company study.
"It was one of these 'We are in deep trouble' memos," Evers recalled.
"Everybody who knew what the extraction limits were knew there was a problem." DuPont sells a variety of products called telomers, some of which are used in grease-repellent coatings for food packaging.
C8 is not used to make these products. But telomers are chemical cousins to C8. Scientists believe that telomers break down to form C8.
They worry that this breakdown could be at least partly responsible for wide distribution of C8 in the environment around the globe.
DuPont says C8 is present in telomer products in only tiny amounts, and does not pose any public health threat.
"These products are safe," DuPont chemist Bob Bock said last week.
The debate over the potential dangers of C8 that leaches from telomers is an emerging part of the ongoing battle over chemicals that help create some of DuPont's best-known and most-popular products.
C8 is another name for ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA. It is part of a family of chemicals called fluoropolymers. DuPont has used the chemical since the 1950s at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg to make Teflon and other similar nonstick and stain-resistant products.
For decades, C8 - and DuPont's emissions of it - have essentially been unregulated by state and federal agencies. Fueled in large part by internal corporate records uncovered by lawyers for Wood County residents, the EPA in April 2003 launched a high-priority investigation of C8's potential dangers.
In September 2004, DuPont announced it would pay $107.6 million to settle the residents' suit, which alleged the company poisoned drinking water for thousands of homes.
During the months before the settlement, residents' lawyers obtained sworn statements from a variety of current and former DuPont employees.
In April 2004, Evers answered questions under oath from the residents' lawyers for nearly eight hours.
During this interview, called a deposition, Evers said DuPont learned from a 1966 study that chemicals like C8 can be transferred to food if they are used as package coatings. DuPont also knew from a study that dogs that had been fed fluoro-chemicals like C8 developed enlarged livers.
When the EPA launched its C8 review, the agency said it was concerned about studies that showed the chemical could cause development effects in laboratory animals. Agency officials were also worried about research that suggests it may be linked to cancer.
Researchers are finding that people around the world have C8 in their blood. The blood levels may be generally very small, but it is unclear whether these amounts are dangerous.
For years, DuPont purchased the C8 it used from 3M. But in May 2000, 3M announced that it would phase out the product because of concerns about its safety.
In his deposition, Evers said the 3M announcement had DuPont officials "licking their chops, saying there is $150 million worth of fluorochemicals sales that we can jump into." Earlier, DuPont had worked out a deal with the federal Food and Drug Administration to certify the use of its telomer products for food package coatings, Evers testified.
FDA officials told DuPont that this was a new product, and that the company should do a two-year study first, Evers said.
In response, DuPont said it had found no health effects at less than 1,000 parts per million of C8. The FDA said that wasn't good enough.
"It was a negotiating process," Evers testified. "What they did was they said what limit can we have that would be acceptable, and FDA said no higher than 0.1 parts per million extractable. So that translates to a pretty good safety margin for extraction." DuPont convinced the FDA that its product ZONYL RP would extract to a range of 0.1 to 0.25 parts per million, Evers said. "FDA said, 'Fine.
You are certified,'" Evers said.
Later, DuPont discovered that ZONYL RP was leaching more than 0.5 parts per million of C8 into food packaging, Evers said.
"What it meant was that we were out of compliance for that particular product," Evers said. "We shouldn't be selling it to the paper industry. More of the fluorochemicals product was extracting from the paper into water than what FDA allowed." DuPont officials declined to answer specific questions about Evers' testimony.
Instead, the Wilmington, Del.-based company issued a general statement that it "does not sell any product or material into the paper industry that has not been approved for its regulated use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." "DuPont products are compliant with all FDA applications and are safe for their intended uses," the statement said.
An FDA spokesman could not be reached for comment on Evers' testimony.
Previously, FDA officials have said that they do not believe the levels of C8 in food packaging are a threat to public health.
In July 2004, the EPA sued DuPont for allegedly hiding important information about C8's potential health effects from regulators.
Under federal law, DuPont could face more than $300 million in civil fines.
But, DuPont and the EPA have said they have reached an "agreement in principle." An announcement about the settlement terms could come as soon as Nov. 23, the deadline for a key filing in the EPA's case.
As part of its suit, the EPA subpoenaed from the Wood County residents' lawyers dozens of previously confidential depositions and other documents about C8. The EPA has released some of those records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Charleston Gazette. A transcript of Evers' deposition is among the records that the EPA has disclosed.
In the interview, Evers said he was surprised that DuPont did not take action on the telomer issue.
"When something happens that your process is out of whack where it is out of compliance with federal regulation, DuPont normally, because they are a good, safe company, will follow up and do some work on it and find out what is going on," Evers testified.
Evers worked for DuPont for more than 20 years, from 1981 to 2002. It is not clear why he left.
Evers said he hired a lawyer because DuPont "threatened to prosecute me" and "I needed somebody who would protect my interest and allow me to do what is right." Neither Evers nor his lawyer returned phone calls.
When Evers' testimony got a brief mention in a Chicago Tribune article in January, DuPont officials labeled him a "disgruntled employee with little direct knowledge" of C8.
Last week, DuPont corporate spokesman R. Clifton Webb declined to elaborate on that description. "We're not going to comment on Evers," Webb said.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.