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U.S. EPA Intensifies Investigation Into Chemical Used In Non-Stick Coatings
Apr 17, 2003
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week released a preliminary risk assessment for the chemical PFOA. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is used as an essential processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers, in turns, are used widely in industrial applications, including non-stick surfaces on small electric appliances and cookware. The EPA says studies it recently evaluated have raised a number of potential toxicity concerns, and when combined with information that the general U.S. population may be exposed to very low levels of PFOA, has led the agency to conclude that additional scientific information is needed to determine if new regulatory actions are warranted. The EPA says companies that manufacture and use PFOA, and companies that manufacture telomers, are taking voluntary product stewardship steps, as described in letters of intent submitted to the agency. The letters are available in the public docket. 3M will not resume the manufacture of PFOA. the company will continue medical monitoring efforts for workers and continue monitoring ground water, surface water, and other environmental media, and provide reports to EPA. The members of the Fluoropolymer Manufacturers Group have committed to reduce emissions, to study their products to determine whether they may be a source of PFOA, and to take steps to reduce exposures to workers and the environment. The members of the Telomer Research Program have committed to evaluating products sold in the U.S. to determine whether they contribute to significant human or environmental exposure to PFOA. "To ensure consumers are protected from any potential risks, the Agency will be conducting its most extensive scientific assessment ever undertaken on this type of chemical," said Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. "Today's announcement puts in place rigorous regulatory and scientific steps that will lead to a better understanding of PFOA. This priority scientific review will guarantee that any future regulatory action on PFOA is protective of public health and supported by the best scientific information." To initiate the process, the EPA released its preliminary PFOA risk assessment for public review. A public docket was established so interested parties can review the scientific information available to the agency. The EPA will also hold public meetings. With more scientific information, EPA expects to develop a more comprehensive risk assessment, then will seek additional public comments and independent peer review from its Science Advisory Board later this year. The EPA says new laboratory studies it recently evaluated show PFOA may cause developmental toxicity and other health effects. Available data also indicates that the general U.S. population may be exposed to PFOA at very low levels. The EPA says potential sources and exposure pathways of PFOA are not well understood yet. It may be released during manufacturing or processing, and it may also be formed during the environmental breakdown of certain other fluorinated compounds known as telomers. PFOA may also have been a contaminant in certain other fluorinated products that were discontinued by the end of 2002.

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