The Environmental Protection Agency announced Dec. 14 it will fine DuPont $16.5 million for not reporting possible health risks associated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical compound used to make Teflon. Although the fine is the largest ever levied by the EPA, officials at the Environmental Working Group note that $16.5 million is less than half of a percent of DuPont's average annual profits from Teflon products.
Washington, D.C.-based EWG, which initiated the EPA investigation into DuPont's use of PFOA, claims the chemical is in the blood of 95 percent of Americans. Earlier this year, EWG reported that an independent science panel found that PFOA is a "likely human carcinogen." EPA's scientific advisory board also is studying the chemical and is reportedly set to announce its findings soon. DuPont reports that studies conducted by the company and independent researchers confirm that cookware and other products made with DuPont materials are safe for consumer use, and that "to date, no human health effects are known to be caused by PFOA."
Earlier this year, DuPont agreed to pay at least $107 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by West Virginia residents who claimed the company's nearby Teflon plant contaminated local waters with PFOA.
The $16.5 million EPA fine, which is subject to approval by the agency's Environmental Appeals Board, doesn't require DuPont to admit liability for failing to report its 1981 finding that female Teflon plant workers had PFOA in their blood, and that two out of seven babies born to plant workers between 1979 and 1981 had facial deformities.
"Our interpretation of the reporting requirements differed from the agency's. The settlement allows us to put this matter behind us and move forward," said DuPont Senior Vice President and General Counsel Stacey Mobley, in a statement.
Mobley noted that DuPont has cut PFOA emissions at U.S. plants by 98 percent, and plans to reduce it further, to 99 percent by 2007.
The EPA could have fined DuPont as much as $313 million for its reporting violations, but several factors?the environmental significance of the violations, the importance of the information not submitted and the litigation risk from DuPont—made the lower fine appropriate, said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for the agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in a press conference.
Nakayama noted that the fine is more than 60 percent higher than any previous EPA administrative penalty. However, EWG President Ken Cook criticized the dollar figure, noting that DuPont is a $25 billion company. He also said in a statement that DuPont's failure to admit liability to the EPA shows that "clearly the fine hasn't changed the corporation's culture. That is a good reason not to trust that DuPont won't do this kind of thing again."
The $16.5 million fine is divided into two parts: $10.25 million for failure to comply with federal law that requires companies to report to the EPA substantial risk information about chemicals they manufacture, produce or distribute; and $6.25 million to fund two supplemental environmental projects.
The first project is a $5 million investigation of nine of DuPont's fluorotelomer-based products, which include industrial lubricants and inks, and their potential to break down into PFOAs. The second project requires DuPont to spend $1.25 million over the next three years to implement projects in Wood County, West Virginia, schools to reduce risks to children's health and enact curriculum changes to enhance science safety.