Washington, DC — DuPont is urgently pressing state regulators to lower a potentially multi-billion dollar water clean-up tab for a chemical once hailed as a miracle for consumers but now seen as a looming health menace. The key battleground is New Jersey, where an effort to finalize tough standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in nonstick cookware and stain resistant fabrics, has reached a critical stage, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
New Jersey is ground zero in the fight because –
- It is widely polluted with the chemical. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) survey of drinking-water systems found PFOA in 78 percent of those tested; and
- After much resistance, DEP has published a risk assessment that supports a very strict limit on PFOA in drinking water – a standard that if enacted and enforced would stick DuPont, a major manufacturer of PFOAs, with a massive groundwater remediation bill.
In an unusual move, DuPont consultants are being allowed to make a presentation to the state Drinking Water Quality Institute which develops recommended standards for hazardous contaminants in drinking water. On August 7, Dr. Robert Tardiff of the Sapphire Group, which is advising DuPont, will speak on PFOA risk assessment. There has not been public notice of this meeting and it is unclear if the public or press may attend. Significantly, the meeting is with the full Institute rather than with its Health Effects Subcommittee which is responsible for recommending health based levels for the contaminants.
“This departure from protocol seems to be an attempt to sway members of the Institute before they have a chance to analyze DEP’s own risk assessment,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Institute is not bound by state open meeting laws. “Polluters should not get a seat at the table where it is decided how harmful their pollution is.”
At the same time, DuPont consultants and representatives have peppered DEP with voluminous document requests filed under the state Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to obtain every scrap of paper generated by any DEP scientist connected with its scientific risk assessment that was finally published in May 2009. These OPRA requests not only demand all official records but also any “communications (internal and external), drafts, changes, personal notes”, among other items.
“These OPRA requests are tantamount to combing through someone’s underwear drawer to find dirty laundry,” added Ruch, pointing out that DEP has a history of withholding even final versions of documents when requested by environmental groups such as PEER. “The question is whether DEP will support its scientists or feed them to industry wolves.”
At its January 27th meeting, the Institute voted to put development of PFOA standards on its 2009 work-plan. Until a standard is finalized, DEP is using a guidance level of .04 parts per billion, the same level established by the DEP risk assessment which is more than 150 times more stringent than the standard that the Sapphire Group and DuPont are pushing.