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EPA Urges Teflon Chemical Ban

DuPont Agrees to Phase-Out of Worrisome Pollutant PFOA
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 27, 2006 - Chemical industry leaders have agreed to an EPA plan to phase out a chemical used to make Teflon, microwave popcorn bags, waterproof clothing, and many other products.

The chemical, PFOA (also known as C8), is a man-made chemical that persists in the environment. When it gets into the body, it stays there for a very long time. And it has somehow gotten into the bodies of nearly everyone on earthsomehow gotten into the bodies of nearly everyone on earth.

Most experts don't think it's hurting us -- yetexperts don't think it's hurting us -- yet. Factory workers exposed to relatively high levels of PFOA don't seem to have particularly severe health problems. But animal studies strongly suggest that when enough PFOA builds up in the body, it can cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects, immune-system damage, and death.

This week, the EPA announced a voluntary "PFOA stewardship" program asking the eight companies that make PFOA to stop. The program would reduce the use of PFOA by 95% by 2010. It would eliminate production of the chemical by 2015 at the latest.

That's good, because it takes the body 10 years to eliminate PFOA from the body -- if there's no new exposure. And since the chemical is all over the earth, we're always getting new exposures. Stopping production means that we won't be exposed to increasing amounts of PFOA.

"Our risk assessment work is still under way and additional studies are in progress -- but we're not waiting for final answers," EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones tells WebMD. "This stewardship program takes immediate steps to ensure that people are not exposed to increasing amounts of PFOA as time goes on."

Teflon maker DuPont already has signed on to the plan. A chemical very similar to PFOA, called PFOS, was used by 3M Corp. to make Scotchgard and other products. In May 2000, after negotiations with EPA, 3M phased out PFOS use.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group has been trying for years to get PFOA banned. The watchdog group praises the DuPont and 3M actions. Toxicologist Tim Kropp, PhD, is a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group.

"The EPA stewardship program is a really good framework for phasing out chemicals that have caused a very large public health problem in the U.S.," Kropp tells WebMD. "It is going to phase out PFOA and any compound that breaks down into PFOA, whether as an emission from a factory or the breakdown of things in consumer products."

Phasing out PFOAs doesn't mean that we'll have to give up having nonstick pans or waterproof clothing. Smaller molecules that don't stick in the body can work just as well as PFOAs. Kropp says 3M switched to these safer chemicals five years ago.

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