June 23, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has signed an agreement with the DuPont corporation, imposing a new maximum level of a toxic Teflon chemical in drinking water near a factory in Parkersburg, West Virginia. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), however, the agreement does not go nearly far enough.
“EPA’s arrangement with DuPont would likely give a false sense of security to thousands of West Virginians and Ohioans whose drinking water has been polluted by toxic discharges from the Parkersburg facility,” wrote EWG President Richard Wiles, in an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
At issue is the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an ingredient of nonstick cookware that has been shown to build up in the body and disrupt the human hormonal and reproductive systems at blood levels as low as four parts per billion (ppb). With the consent of DuPont, the EPA has required that water near the Parkersburg plant contain no more than 0.4 ppb of the chemical, instead of the prior threshold of 0.5 ppb. This level was based on a health advisory issued in January, setting 0.5 ppb as a maximum safe level for short-term exposure.
“The fact is that there is no such thing as short-term drinking water exposure,” Wiles wrote. “People drink tap water every day. PFOA persists in the environment, and thus in water supplies, for hundreds of years. … Applying this short-term health advisory to long-term exposure to contaminated water directly contradicts both sound science and EPA’s own principles of risk assessment and risk management.”
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that drinking tap water containing 0 versus 0.4 ppb of PFOA could produce human blood levels of 40 ppb, or ten times the EPA’s maximum safe threshold.
This figure presumes that people’s only source of PFOA exposure is tap water, but most people are also exposed to the chemical from a variety of consumer sources as well.