West Virginia Public Broadcasting
By Glynis Board
“The Teflon Toxin” is the title of a series of three investigative reports that surfaced this month. The series examines the 70-year history of DuPont and the no-stick chemical called C8 used to coat Teflon pans and other products.
A decade ago it came to light that DuPont contaminated water sources in West Virginia and Ohio with the chemical, and soon after that the chemical is toxic. The use of the C8 was phased out of production this year at DuPont’s Washington Works plant just outside Parkersburg. But this September, the first of about 3,500 personal injury claims is coming to trial.
That’s one reason the investigative series was just published.
The 60-year C8 Chemical Leak
While studying C8 contamination problems in New Jersey Lerner discovered the extensive history in West Virginia and Ohio. Her story grew from one to three reports:
DuPont is one of eight companies responsible for C8 contamination throughout the United States. Lerner goes into great detail about how DuPont’s own scientists first discovered health threats posed by C8 in the 50s and 60s.
Her report includes links and excerpts from internal company memos. Company communications are becoming public as court documents are filed in the lead-up to the personal injury trials that begin this September in Columbus, Ohio.
This is video footage taken by Wilber Tennant in the late '90s. It’s included in the series of articles published by an online investigative publication called The Intercept. Journalist Sharon Lerner remembers going through the four hours of footage while she researched the history of C8 contamination by DuPont in West Virginia and Ohio.
“Tennant went around his property and documented the effect of this chemical on his cows but also on wildlife," Lerner said. "You can see over time the way his water changes and thickens, and the way his animals get sicker and sicker and then all die.”
Lerner reports that there are still no specific federal C8 regulations. This despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented that 99.7 percent of Americans have the chemical in their bloodstream.
“Indeed, there is voluminous, and repetitive, correspondence about C8 between the agency and the lawyer. In 2010, the agency responded to his urging to set a national drinking water level with a promise that it would do so by the end of that year. Then, in 2011, the agency promised to set the level by the end of that year. And, again, in a February 2012 letter, the EPA claimed it would take action in the “next few months” or by “early 2013.”
A February 23, 2015 letter from Susan Hedman, a regional administrator of the EPA, has a similar ring, saying that a lifetime health advisory may be developed “later this year,” at which point the agency might just possibly reevaluate its 2009 consent order with DuPont.”
“There are more than 6 million people in the US who now have c8 in their drinking water above .02 parts per billions which is probably enough to cause significant health effects,” Lerner said.
The European Union banned C8 and this year proposed a global ban, Lerner reports, but it’s still being produced today in India, Russia, and China. She says in the U.S., C8 in cookware, clothing, and food wrappers is now being replaced by other chemicals. Public knowledge about these new chemicals is limited.
“The way we regulate chemicals, or I should say the way we don’t regulate chemicals in really the central problem here.”
Lerner says one big personal discovery she’s come away with is the realization that a string of community heroes, as she calls them, are responsible for DuPont and other companies being forced to address the problem of C8.
“It’s like a bucket brigade,” she said “one brave moment to another. It was one person after another bringing it forward.”
Lerner reports DuPont saw 95 million dollars in profits every day last year, but still the company has taken steps to protect against potential cleanup fallout by spinning off its chemical division into a separate company called Chemours.
“DuPont has promised to cover whatever settlements result from the crop of personal injury claims,” Lerner reports, “but, if they’re ever levied, clean-up costs for the C8 DuPont leaked into the larger environment, which could add up to many billions of dollars, could fall to Chemours, a much smaller company.”
Messages from DuPont
Lerner’s article did include some responses from DuPont. She included segments of court statements where the company denies all wrongdoing, saying injuries were acts of God and that the company “neither knew, nor should have known, that any of the substances ... were hazardous.” DuPont also issued a statement just prior to the article being published that defends its relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency -- a relationship that Lerner’s report casts some doubt on.