A national environmental group is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to ban a chemical used to make fluoropolymers because of health concerns, but industry groups said perfluorooctanoic acid is crucial to making the high-performance plastics and has been used safely for decades.
The Washington-based Environmental Working Group called for the ban during a June 6 EPA hearing on how to handle the controversial chemical. EPA called the hearing to discuss legally binding consent agreements it wants to set up with industry for further research and emissions reductions.
Environmental Working Group, however, said a ban is warranted because the levels found in people are too close to toxic levels in rats.
Concern has cropped up among people living around fluoropolymer plants. A rural Ohio water agency whose drinking wells are contaminated by PFOA, possibly from a DuPont Co. fluoropolymer plant located immediately across the Ohio River, expressed concern that the essentially unregulated chemical is in the water supply of its 12,000 customers.
The group, the Little Hocking Water Association in Washington County, Ohio, said DuPont withheld test results for 18 years showing PFOA in its wells, and urged EPA to develop a review that is independent of companies and groups with a ``great economic interest in the outcome.''
Industry groups said they will participate in the EPA review, and predicted it ultimately will not find problems with PFOA. The issue also is being argued in courts and within government agencies in West Virginia and Ohio.
Industry groups said they will step up their actions. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington said industry is committed to reducing PFOA emissions by 50 percent by 2006. And DuPont said that while PFOA has been used safely for 50 years, it will support a ``well-informed'' regulation.
There are many unanswered questions about the chemical. EPA has said it does not understand entirely how people are exposed to PFOA, and said there is much the agency needs to know before making a decision.
SPI President Don Duncan told the hearing, which was ongoing at press time, that PFOA is critical to making fluoropolymers, and he said 30 years of industry research has not found a suitable alternative. Fluoropolymers are used in high-performance applications in defense, telecommunications, space and automotive markets, among others.
``For many applications, only fluoropolymers will do,'' SPI said in comments to EPA before the meeting. ``Fluoropolymers are a `superplastic' that can operate in conditions requiring temperature and chemical resistance that other materials cannot match.''