The Environmental Protection Agency said it is close to deciding whether DuPont Co. withheld health information from the government about perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used to make fluoropolymers.
``EPA expects to take formal action against DuPont soon,'' the agency said in response to allegations from an environmental group that the company withheld data. ``EPA is actively investigating alleged violations by DuPont for failure to report health-related information regarding PFOA.''
The agency said in April 2003 that it was investigating DuPont for allegedly not disclosing that PFOA was in drinking water around its plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., and that some pregnant women who worked at the plant had the chemical in their umbilical cords. One woman had a child with a birth defect that DuPont said was not linked to PFOA.
EPA typically does not announce updates on the status of investigations, but it made the June 16 statement in response to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group releasing internal DuPont e-mails. EWG brought the original complaint against DuPont. EPA officials declined to comment beyond the statement. In addition to the DuPont investigation, EPA is also in the midst of a separate, broad-based review of how the chemical should be regulated.
DuPont spokesman Clif Webb said the firm followed all reporting requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The law does not require reporting if the chemical does not harm people, he said.
``There is no scientific evidence to indicate that PFOA is harmful to human health or the environment,'' Webb said.
EWG released several documents that came from ongoing litigation against DuPont. The firm said it mistakenly provided some of them to lawyers suing DuPont, and lost a court battle in West Virginia to keep them private.
One e-mail from DuPont lawyer Bernard Reilly in May 2001 to his son recounted how DuPont scientists told him that the company found out that its techniques for testing PFOA in water supplies significantly underestimated the amount of the chemical present. The real level was four to five times higher, he said.
Reilly wrote: ``Not a pretty situation, especially since we have been telling the drinking-water folks not to worry, results have been under the level we deem `safe' of 1 [part per billion]. We now fear we will get data from a better technique that will exceed the number we have touted as safe. Ugh.''
Another e-mail from Reilly in December 2001 said water levels were within safe limits, but ``the bad news is that [PFOA] still is there and folks do not like that. I would not.''
Another e-mail, written by DuPont lawyer John Bowman in November 2000, said it would be easier to supply an uncontaminated source of water for one community than to fight lawsuits.
``Our story is not a good one, we continued to increase our emissions into the river in spite of internal commitments to reduce or eliminate the release of this chemical into the community and the environment because of our concern about the biopersistence of this chemical,'' he wrote.
Webb said the company would not comment on individual opinions of company employees.