DuPont study finds chemical levels seem normal

Published 10:42 pm Saturday, October 14, 2006

The DuPont Corp. says a study of a chemical removal process at its First Chemical Corp. site near Pascagoula shows no harmful emissions.

On Sept. 19, DuPont’s First Chemical plant in Pascagoula began trucking in fluorotelomer alcohol, a key component used to produce surface protection products.

The company is receiving telomer alcohol from a DuPont plant in New Jersey and running it through a newly developed manufacturing process they say will chemically destroy perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a byproduct of the process.

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The remaining PFOA, and its potential health and environmental effects once it’s released into the local wastewater system, has stirred controversy for nearly two months.

“It was what we expected to find,” said Donald Scharr, DuPont’s First Chemical Corporation environmental manager. “This confirms that PFOA levels are consistent with background levels found in the general environment. We did this study to ensure that we understand PFOA levels before we start our process.”

Scharr said the company also took blood samples from 93 First Chemical workers. All the workers had PFOA in their blood in a range thought to be average for the general American public, he said.

Dr. Ann Masse, the safety, health and environment manager for DuPont, said PFOA was also detected in fish, shellfish and oysters in the Mississippi Sound and in Grand Bay. She said two labs in Pennsylvania and Colorado found the levels to be similar as those found in fish and shellfish elsewhere.

“You can say (PFOA) is in fish everywhere, but you can also say it came from the labs,” Masse said. “Everything we measured was at extremely low numbers. You have to use these numbers with caution.”

Masse said that the chemical was not found in Pascagoula drinking water but that it and its toxic chemical sibling PFOS were found together, indicating that the chemicals got there as part of historical pollution dispersal.

Henry Folmer, with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said concentrations of PFOA found in the DuPont study look comparable to other parts of the country and world, but that he wants to see future results.

“Our intent is that they will monitor to see if (PFOA) will be increasing from baseline levels,” Folmer said. “We wanted to see this data and we want to see if there is an increase in PFOA in the environment after they go online.”

DuPont spokesman Nate Pepper said the company completed the study as part of a commitment to state regulatory agencies to understand how much of the chemical was in the environment before the First Chemical Corporation began stripping PFOA and destroying it.

Sierra Club’s Becky Gillette said DuPont’s study shows that the production and release of PFOA must be stopped immediately.

“If PFOA levels are low now, then let’s keep them that way,” Gillette said. “This study is more evidence that PFOA production needs to be stopped. The fact that it is already in our seafood is not cause for celebration.”

Masse and Scharr said that the new process is aimed at reducing PFOA emissions and that the project is not posing harm to citizens or the environment.

“To date, there are no human health effects known to be caused by PFOA,” Masse said. “Based on health and toxicological studies conducted by 3M, DuPont and other researchers, DuPont believes the weight of evidence indicates that PFOA exposure does not pose a health risk to the general public.”

Scharr said First Chemical will monitor PFOA discharges into the regional wastewater system that serves Pascagoula. The company has said it would limit PFOA discharges to two pounds or less per year.