A coalition of six environmental and labor groups have sued California in an attempt to get it to list perfluorooctanoic acid as a carcinogenic substance under Proposition 65.
PFOA is used to make fluoropolymers, which are used to make nonstick cookware, medical devices, coatings for the inside of metal cans and other products.
The complaint for injunctive relief was filed in the Superior Court of California in Oakland on Nov. 19 by the Sierra Club, the United Steelworkers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the California Labor Federation, Environment California and the Environmental Law Foundation.
``We consider PFOA as the poster child for the underlying problems of Proposition 65,'' said USW spokesman Shawn Gilchrist.
Proposition 65 - which became law in 1986 - requires the state to update the list of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive and development harm at least once a year.
However, in the last five years, the state's Carcinogen Identification Committee has not listed any chemicals, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has removed four chemicals from the list, and only one chemical has been presented to CIC for possible listing and that was denied.
OEHHA said in a letter to the USW there is ``widespread public exposure, as well as occupational exposure to PFOA,'' and that PFOA chemicals ``persist in humans.''
But it denied petitions filed by the USW in February 2006 and July 2007, asking the state to use its expedited review process in order to list PFOA as a carcinogen.
``Every time we tried to get this chemical reviewed, we ran into a roadblock,'' said Gilchrist.
John Heinze, executive director of the Environmental Health Resource Foundation in Chantilly, Va., and a senior consultant to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said asking California to list PFOA as a carcinogen is something that the state cannot legally do, because the substance has not been classified as a carcinogen by a government agency or an outside authoritative agency.
``The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never ruled that PFOA is a cancer-causing substance,'' Heinze said in a Nov. 20 telephone interview. EPA only has said that PFOA is a ``suggested'' carcinogen and, on its Web site, states it believes there isn't a ``reason for consumers to stop using any products because of concerns about PFOA.''
Heinze said the lawsuit is based on the split finding in 2006 of the independent Science Advisory Board report to the U.S. EPA, which said PFOA is ``likely to be carcinogenic,'' but that more research was needed. EPA advised after that report that it was important ``not to draw any conclusions ... until all new testing is completed,'' sometime in 2008.
``Any allegations about the safety of nonstick cookware make no sense,'' Heinze said. ``The lawsuit is simply part of the union's strategy to keep PFOA in the news because of plaintiff lawsuits with regard to PFOA.''
Once a chemical is on the Proposition 65 list, it becomes unlawful to knowingly discharge a significant amount of the chemical into sources of drinking water or to expose people to the chemical without a warning.
As a result, any consumer products containing PFOA would have to carry warning labels.