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DuPont Co. has agreed to pay $10.25 million in fines and $6.25 million for environmental projects to settle allegations by the Environmental Protection Agency that the company hid information about a toxic chemical used to make the nonstick coating Teflon. The settlement announced Wednesday represents the largest civil administrative penalty obtained by the EPA under any federal environmental statute, surpassing a $6 million penalty levied more than a decade ago in a Tennessee case involving PCBs. “This sends a strong message that companies are responsible for promptly giving EPA risk information associated with their chemicals,” said Granta Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance. The settlement involves EPA allegations that DuPont violated the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by withholding information about the potential health and environmental risks posed by perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. “Frankly, we could have litigated this thing for several years,” said DuPont general counsel Stacey Mobley. “We wanted to get this thing behind us so we could move forward.” Lawyers for DuPont and EPA told an administrative law judge Nov. 23 that they had reached a final agreement, but details were not released until Wednesday. The EPA alleged that DuPont withheld information for more than 20 years about the health effects of PFOA, also known as C-8, and about the pollution of water supplies around the company’s Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, W.Va. Among other things, the EPA said DuPont knew as early as 1981 from studies of pregnant workers that the chemical could be transmitted through a woman’s placenta to her fetus. The EPA did not learn of the 1981 study until 2001, when results were provided to the agency by a lawyer representing Parkersburg-area residents in a class action lawsuit against DuPont. “This information should have been immediately reported to EPA,” Nakayama said. “… This was the first and only information about human placental transfer and PFOA levels in children.” The settlement resolves EPA’s primary complaint over failure to report information about transplacental movement of PFOA, as well as seven other counts. Those additional counts involve failure to report information concerning contamination of drinking water, EPA requests for toxicity data, elevated blood levels of PFOA in people living near the Washington Works plant, and toxicity data from rat inhalation studies. In reaching the settlement agreement, which must be approved by the EPA Environmental Appeals Board, DuPont did not admit any liability. “Our interpretation of the reporting requirements differed from the agency’s,” said Mobley, who noted that the company has cut PFOA emissions from U.S. plant sites by 98 percent and hopes to reduce emissions even further by 2007. “To date, there is no human health effects that we know about that are caused by PFOA … We’ve seen nothing,” Mobley said. EPA officials said they recently had clarified some of the TSCA reporting requirements and may issue additional guidance as well. In addition to the fine, DuPont agreed to pay $5 million for a study, to be completed within three years, examining the potential of nine DuPont fluorotelomer-based products to breakdown to form PFOA, which can be found in the blood of most Americans. DuPont uses fluorotelomer chemistry to produce surfactants and repellents used in everything from food wrappers to fabric coatings. Susan Hazen, EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances said the biodegradation study should help scientists better understand PFOA’s exposure routes “and any potential risks it poses to the public.” DuPont also agreed to pay $1.25 million to fund “microscale” and “green chemistry” projects at schools in Wood County, W.Va., aimed at protecting students by reducing exposure to chemicals and using safer chemicals in the classroom. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.,-based advocacy group that helped draw the EPA’s attention to DuPont’s actions involving PFOA, said the fine and environmental projects will cost the company only a minuscule fraction of profits reaped from Teflon over the period it allegedly failed to report data to the EPA. “What’s the appropriate fine for a $25 billion company that for decades hid vital health information about a toxic chemical that now contaminates every man, woman and child in the United States?” said EWG President Ken Cook. “What’s the proper dollar penalty for a pollutant that will never break down, and now finds its way into polar bears in the Arctic and human babies in their mothers’ wombs?” DuPont, which previously set aside $15 million to cover the costs of the EPA lawsuit, theoretically faced a maximum fine of more than $300 million. Nakayama defended the settlement as a “real deterrent” and said the EPA had to weigh the costs and risks of litigation. In February, DuPont 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. While settling the class action lawsuit and EPA complaint, DuPont still faces a federal criminal investigation of its actions concerning PFOA. Meanwhile, the EPA is continuing its PFOA risk assessment. A majority of members on a scientific advisory board that reviewed the EPA’s draft risk assessment concluded in a draft report that the chemical is “likely” to be carcinogenic to humans. While the advisory board has yet to release its final report, its preliminary 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. Associated Press writer John Heilprin in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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