A chemical used to make Teflon may be harmful to people, but more work needs to be done before questions about its safety can be definitively answered, the Environmental Protection Agency said Jan. 12 in a long-awaited review of the compound.
The assessment of perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make fluoropolymers such as Teflon, quietly was praised by industry groups as validating PFOA's safety, and criticized by environmental groups for neglecting key studies.
EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said a panel of outside experts appointed by the agency will review the report, which EPA then will revise.
``We came out with a draft risk assessment that reaches no conclusions,'' Jones said.
For example, she said it remains unclear whether there is a link between PFOA and cancer. EPA said that without clear human studies and with only inconclusive rat studies, PFOA may be best described as having ``suggestive evidence'' linking it to cancer.
Jones repeated earlier EPA assertions that people do not need to throw away products with Teflon, such as pots and pans.
PFOA has attracted attention beyond the study. EPA is pursuing a court case against DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., for allegedly not disclosing studies showing health risks of PFOA. And DuPont settled a class-action lawsuit for $343 million last year for PFOA pollution in drinking water around one of its factories.
The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which has been working with EPA in a parallel scientific review of PFOA, said the Jan. 12 study ``provides added assurance to the public regarding the safety of PFOA.''
EPA has been studying PFOA because the chemical is found widely in human blood samples, but it's not clear how it got there.
DuPont said it welcomes the report, and has taken steps to reduce PFOA emissions by 98 percent in the past five years.
``Although, to date, no human health effects are known to be caused by PFOA, the company recognizes that the presence of PFOA in human blood raises questions that need to be addressed,'' DuPont said.
The Washington-based Environmental Working Group said the EPA report ignored some scientific studies, such as data showing links between PFOA in the blood and higher cholesterol rates, and it said the agency is not giving enough weight to testicular and pancreatic cancer questions.
``There's a big difference between sound science and tilted science, and at every turn in this important process, EPA officials favored DuPont,'' EWG President Ken Cook said in a news release.