DuPont Co. is awaiting a judge's ruling on accusations that the company withheld studies showing health risks from a chemical used to make Teflon.
Lawyers for DuPont argued at an unusually well-attended court hearing Dec. 16 in Washington that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its bounds and that the case should be thrown out.
DuPont told an EPA judge that studies about perfluorooctanoic acid did not have to be reported to the EPA because PFOA is not considered a hazardous substance.
Some of the debate focused on technical issues like interpreting the language in regulatory agreements between industry and EPA. At issue are studies showing PFOA levels in tap water and in the blood of workers and their children.
In particular, DuPont and EPA lawyers argued about whether DuPont had to report a study of workers at its Parkersburg, W.Va., plant showing that PFOA could pass through the placental barrier from pregnant women to their children. EPA argues that exposed fetuses could experience toxic effects from the PFOA similar to those observed in lab animals.
``We're talking about human data here,'' said EPA lawyer Ilana Sahzbart. ``It demonstrates that PFOA crossed the human placental barrier.''
But DuPont lawyer John Martin said the company was trying to provide information in good faith, and said that in the case of the placental study, the company did not provide it, in part, because the EPA data request was not phrased broadly. He also argued that PFOA has not been demonstrated to be hazardous.
Martin argued that DuPont had been reporting other information voluntarily. DuPont lawyers also argued that the company had to navigate a minefield of unclear EPA rules, and said EPA had, in fact, given the chemical industry some exemptions from reporting because the agency admitted its own rules were vague.
``There is nothing in the record to suggest DuPont was trying to fraudulently deceive the EPA,'' Martin said.
EPA officials have not said how much of a penalty they will seek, but said similar cases have seen penalties of between $1 million and $5 million.