January 16, 2009 The Pump Handle 1Comment

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward reports:

“Less than a week before leaving office, the Bush administration is preparing to issue an emergency health advisory for drinking water polluted with the toxic chemical C8.  …EPA plans to recommend reducing consumption of water that contains more than 0.4 parts per billion of C8, according to a draft of the agency advisory [6-page PDF] obtained by the Charleston Gazette.  …The [new] advisory level is tighter [and] a guideline in effect for residents near a DuPont Parkersburg [WV chemical] plant…are both 10 times weaker than a similar C8 water guideline set by New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Lisa Jackson.”

On January 14, Ms. Jackson had her confirmation hearing as President-elect Obama’s pick for U.S. EPA Administrator. C8 is the abbreviation for ammonium perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), a compound used to make Teflon and other non-stick surfaces.  And following Ken Ward’s article on Jan 15, U.S. EPA does in fact have a link to this document on the agency’s website.

In “Bush to issue last-minute rules on C8”, Ward writes

“The administration’s surprise move comes as EPA scientists quietly investigate concerns that C8 contaminated the food chain through beef, after tainted sewage sludge was dumped on agricultural land in Alabama.”   [See related Environ. Sci. Technol story here]

“The new health advisory was apparently driven in large part by an EPA investigation of high levels of C8 found in agricultural soils in Decatur, Ala.  EPA and the USDA, along with the FDA, were especially concerned after learning that the grasslands where the sludge was applied were used for grazing beef cattle for 12 years…  If the chemicals are found to have contaminated meat, the results could mark the first time that PFCs would have been traced from sludge to commercially produced food.”

Ward’s story continues:

“Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in their blood at low levels.  Evidence is mounting about the chemical’s dangerous effects, but regulators have yet to set a binding federal limit for emissions or human exposure.  …One possible difference is that New Jersey set its standard to protect residents from the long-term effects of drinking small amounts of C8 in their household water. EPA set the Parkersburg limit as an emergency standard to protect the public from ‘an imminent and substantial endangerment’ from short-term exposure to C8.”  

“It’s not clear whether the new EPA advisory is intended to protect against short- or long-term exposure.  Several EPA staffers have urged top agency officials to give the public ‘specification of the time frame for which the Provisional Health Advisory was derived,’ according to a summary of peer-review agency comments.  DuPont, which also owns a huge plant in Deepwater, N.J., has been lobbying hard for that state to modify its current C8 rules.”

“The chemical company agreed to the Parkersburg limit – 0.5 parts per billion – as part of a deal with EPA. DuPont was required to provide treatment equipment or alternative water where the limit was exceeded.  It was not immediately clear what – if any – water supplies around the country might be affected by the EPA action.  The EPA document describes the ‘provisional health advisory … Developed to provide information in response to an urgent or rapidly developing situation.’  Such advisories ‘reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.’  The document says the ‘number will be updated as additional information becomes available and can be evaluated.'”

“But the EPA action puts the agency on record supporting a C8 standard that, while acceptable to DuPont, is far weaker than environmentalists and lawyers for some residents with C8-polluted water believe is needed.  Experts hired by residents’ lawyers have proposed C8 limits as low as 0.02 parts per billion. And in a class-action settlement in 2004, DuPont agreed to provide residents around Parkersburg – but not in the city – with water treatment or alternative supplies if their water contained more than 0.05 parts per billion of C8. “

“‘This is nothing more than a last-minute bailout by the Bush administration for PFOA polluters that would legalize dangerous levels of Teflon pollution in the tap water of millions of Americans,’ said Richard Wiles, director of the Environmental Working Group, which has followed the issue closely.  Officials from DuPont and from 3M Corp., another company that has made PFOA, declined comment Wednesday.”

“EPA has never finalized a broad study of C8’s health effects, issued in draft form in January 2005.  Agency officials have said that no binding limits on the chemical would be put in place until that study was completed.  EPA did launch a DuPont-backed program for industry to voluntarily reduce C8 emissions and cut the amount of C8-like chemicals that ended up on consumer products.  And in December 2005, DuPont agreed to a $16.5 million settlement with EPA to resolve the agency’s lawsuit over allegations that DuPont covered up information about the health risks of C8.”

One thought on “C8: from sludge, to cow pastures, to your hamburger?

  1. This seems like a gift from the departing Bush Administration to Dupont. George Bush went to Parkersburg to campaign in 2004, hoping to win in a normally Democratic state. The New Jersey PFOA standard went through a rigorous peer-review process and came out much more protective than this EPA calculation. It seems that this EPA standard will muddy the waters for a while until the new Administration can reverse it. One of many such gifts that will have to be taken back, no doubt.

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