Environmental official OK with DuPont

Published 2:45 pm Thursday, October 19, 2006

A state Department of Environmental Quality official says he would have no problem living downstream from the DuPont plant here despite a new processing procedure.

Jerry Cain, director of DEQ’s office of pollution control, Tuesday presented scientific data about perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, that was requested by the Pascagoula City Council.

City officials wanted more information on PFOA after DuPont’s First Chemical facility began the processing procedure using the acid.

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Cain also defended his agency, which opponents have accused of playing corporate politics and not being strict enough in its permitting process surrounding the project. He said MDEQ is not a proponent or opponent of any project and that much research was done on PFOA when applications were submitted.

PFOA is not a regulated chemical in Mississippi. Cain said when studies are done on PFOA, a separate chemical, PFOS, is also found in the environment and the bloodstream.

First Chemical conducted a baseline study locally last week and reported that levels found were similar to previously published reports for both the environment and blood levels.

Cain argued that no human health effects have been associated with PFOA, but he also said that debate will continue as to whether PFOA will eventually be classified as a carcinogen or linked with other diseases.

He said results showing lab rats can experience some health problems do not indicate that those same results would necessarily be found in humans.

Cain also compared First Chemical’s project with other DuPont plants that have used PFOA.

He said that in 1999, in a New Jersey plant operated by DuPont, there were 24,000 pounds of PFOA released in the water system. That had been reduced by 88 percent to 3,000 pounds a year in 2005, he said.

And a DuPont facility in West Virginia released about 56,000 pounds of PFOA in the water there, and now emissions are about 1,700 pounds a year, Cain said.

“What’s being proposed (by First Chemical) here is two pounds using the current technology,” Cain said.

He said the proposed emissions are so low that only one or two labs in America can detect those levels. First Chemical has also committed to pay for independent testing using those labs and release the findings.

Sierra Club members who opposed First Chemical’s usages of PFOA said the company’s baseline study was flawed by design and designed to mislead.

“As inadequate as DuPont’s 2006 baseline PFOA study was, it merely confirms that DuPont’s First Chemical has contaminated public waters and its employees with PFOA,” said Brenda Songy of Sierra Club’s Gulf Coast Chapter.

“DuPont’s study is part of the company’s global strategy to convince the public that PFOA contamination of people and the environment is normal and is to be expected, and for their benefit, accepted,” Songy said.

City officials appeared to be satisfied with Cain’s report, but approved a resolution to be informed by MDEQ when changes are made to permits or applications within one mile of the city limits.