Thursday, November 17, 2005
Former DuPont Top Expert: Company Knew, Covered Up Pollution of Americans' Blood for 18 Years
Documents: Company Couldn't Find Safe Level of Exposure in 1973 to Chemical that Never Breaks Down, Clings to Human Blood
Study Results Show Company Found Safer Ways to Coat Food Packaging But Shelved Them to Save Money
WASHINGTON - Glenn Evers was a DuPont employee of 22 years, one of the company's top technical experts and the chairman of an invitation-only committee of its 40 best scientists and technical experts. He holds six patents, and his work has, to date, made the company an estimated $250 million in after-tax profits. Evers was, by his description, a dedicated "company man."
He was also the company's top chemical engineer involved with designing and developing new uses of grease-resistant, or perfluorinated, chemical-based coating for paper food packaging.
Breakdown chemicals from these coatings and related sources are now in the blood of 95 percent of Americans, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent the last several years trying to determine how they get there.
DuPont has claimed that it does not know how the chemicals got there - and that are not aware that their product is responsible.
"If we had any reason to believe that [there] was a safety issue for fluorinated telomers-based product, we wouldn't have commercialized them," DuPont Director of Planning and Technology Robert Ritchie told the Wilmington News Journal (11/23/03).
Today, however, Glenn Evers told in detail how his former employer hid for decades that it was polluting Americans' blood with a hyper-persistent chemical associated with the grease-resistant coatings on paper food packaging.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) has obtained and today made public a set of internal company documents that support Evers' story.
Combined, the Evers story and EWG's documents present a startling chronology of DuPont's actions:
- Evers describes how, in the mid-1960s, the company negotiated with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a weak standard for how much of the paper chemical coating, which is applied to give packaging grease or liquid resistance, could contaminate food. The FDA at the time normally required a two-year study for chemicals it wasn't familiar with, but agreed to base DuPont's approval on a 90-day test with a 1,000-fold safety factor added.
- Evers explains how that standard, which remains in effect today, was based on the premise that the chemical would leave the body quickly. He explained that as a company expert, he saw that the company knew, at least by 1981, that another class of perfluorinated chemicals, such as PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), accumulates in people. It is unclear whether or not the company ever provided the FDA this information, but Evers explained how the company continued to worry about this information throughout the 1990s.
- A company document shows that DuPont conducted a toxicological study in 1973 in which it was unable to find a safe level of exposure in lab animals, and that the chemicals were toxic to the kidneys, liver and blood.
- A 1984 internal company memorandum raises the question of which of these crucial findings, if any, from the 1973 study were provided to the FDA.
- A key document shows that in 1987, DuPont's Dr. Richard Goldbaum found that the company's marquee paper packaging coating chemical, Zonyl RP, could contaminate food at over three times the federal safety standard, while two effective alternatives contaminated food at half the federal maximum level.
- Evers describes how he and others copied on the results of that study knew they were "devastating." Evers approached Goldbaum, and then Goldbaum's superior, Gerald Culling, telling each of them that the results were an enormous problem and that it would be unethical to continue selling the product. Both men told Evers not to worry, and that they were "taking care of it."
- Evers realized with time that the company had not ordered a standard, internal process hazards review to find out why the chemical was above FDA approved levels. The company did not provide the information to customers, federal health officials and the public. DuPont did not recall the faulty product, did not stop its production, shelved the safer alternatives, and continued to make Zonyl RP - effectively producing for another 18 years the chemicals that would lead to the contamination of consumers' blood.
- Evers says that one of the reasons the company stuck with the problematic Zonyl RP was that it had adopted the practice of blending substandard batches in with better batches - and selling the blended versions to its industrial customers.
- Evers describes how DuPont's "Document Retention Program" required researchers to label all hard copy files to time their destruction. Company managers could audit employees to ensure compliance, and other staff went through employees' hard copy files to ensure documents were destroyed. A master computer program at the company deleted files from company hard drives after a certain period of time.
- Evers tells of how 3M, DuPont's competitor, rapidly abandoned the $150 million per year business using perfluorinated chemicals on paper food packaging when it realized in 2000 that the chemicals were producing byproducts accumulating in human blood and that those chemicals were harmful to developing lab animals. Despite what it knew from the 1987 results by Dr. Goldbaum and the persistence and toxicity of its own chemicals, DuPont moved quickly to sell its similar chemistry to 3M's former customers.
EWG today sent the documents to the FDA's acting commissioner, as well as the inspector general of its parent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting the officials act on the new information. The group is also referring documents to relevant EPA officials.
"These documents indicate a failure to disclose critical public health information about a toxic chemical that never breaks down, that gets into our bodies and stays there," said EWG Senior Scientist Tim Kropp. "If we ever needed a reason to reform the nation's toxic chemical laws, every American now has one, courtesy of DuPont."
Evers' appearance and EWG's document release comes just a week before a potentially significant date in the civil suit the Bush administration's EPA has pursued against the company for suppressing health studies on PFOA, which is used in the production of Teflon pan coatings. Bush EPA political appointees could seek the maximum possible fine of $314 million, but they have shown little appetite for pursuing such a penalty. The next court date for the civil suit was negotiated to fall on Wednesday, November 23, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday and the busiest travel day of the year.
"DuPont thinks it has the right to pollute your blood with chemicals, but it doesn't," said Evers. "Someone could get a fine for dumping trash if he threw a used tire into the creek behind my house. This company continues to pollute the blood of the American public with a toxic chemical - what is it going to end up paying?"
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