the Largest Civil Fine Ever to EPA
(Beyond Pesticides, December 20, 2005) The DuPont Company has agreed to pay a $10.25 million fine and spend $6.25 million on environmental projects to settle Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) complaints that the company violated reporting laws covering toxic and hazardous substances. According to an Associated Press (AP) story, EPA officials described the deal, as the government’s largest-ever civil fine for environmental offenses. EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance Granta Nakayama said, "This sends a strong message that companies are responsible for promptly giving EPA risk information associated with their chemicals."
EPA’s complaints targeted health effects and handling of a chemical used to produce Teflon and other nonstick and stain-resistant products. According to EPA, DuPont withheld information for more than 20 years about the health effects of the synthetic chemical perfluorotanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C-8, and about the pollution of water supplies near the company's Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, W.Va. EPA also said that DuPont withheld test results indicating that the chemical had been found in at least one pregnant worker from the Washington Works plant and had been passed on to her fetus.
DuPont faced sanctions for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, two of the agency’s mainstay pollution control and public health protection laws. According to AP, company officials said they settled without admitting liability.
“Our interpretation of the reporting requirements differed from the agency’s. The settlement allows us to put this matter behind us and move forward,” Stacey Mobley, DuPont senior vice president and general counsel, said in a written statement. "We have already cut PFOA emissions from U.S. plant sites by 98 percent, and we are committed to reducing those emissions by 99 percent by 2007."
Earlier in the year, the company year reported setting aside $15 million for penalties in connection with EPA civil actions targeting the PFOA. The company was also targeted in a separate EPA criminal probe and is working with other industries in a study of health risks posed by PFOA and related compounds.
Researchers in recent years have discovered low concentrations of the chemicals in the blood of humans and animals across the globe. The Teflon chemical PFOA was one of the toxics found in the Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns study (see Daily News).
The supplemental environmental projects that will be funded include a research program to evaluate the potential for fluorotelomer biodegradation and funding for microchemistry and green chemistry programs in certain West Virginia schools. According to Susan Hazen, EPA's principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances the studies should produce valuable information that will help scientists better understand the presence of PFOA "and any potential risks it poses to the public."
In February 2005, the company agreed to pay more than $107 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 2001 by Ohio and West Virginia residents who claimed that DuPont intentionally withheld and misrepresented information about the human health threat posed by PFOA. The EPA is continuing its risk assessment process for PFOA.
In a draft report released in June 2005, the majority of members on a scientific advisory board that reviewed the EPA's draft risk assessment concluded that the chemical is "likely" to be carcinogenic to humans. That finding went beyond the EPA's own determination that there was only "suggestive evidence" from animal studies that perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts are potential human carcinogens.