Chemical giant DuPont Co. told the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday that it fully complied with federal reporting rules on health and environmental risks associated with a key ingredient used in making Teflon.
The company's defense of its decision not to provide all the data it gathered over 20 years on perfluorooctanoic acid, a soaplike material used in making stick-resistant surfaces and materials for products, signals the start of legal wrangling between the nation's largest chemical maker and the administration. EPA announced last month that it is seeking millions in fines from DuPont, contending that the company failed to give the government information that has raised concerns about the compound, also known as C-8 or PFOA.
"We'll fight EPA on this issue," said Stacey J. Mobley, DuPont's general counsel. "We have and will continue to manage PFOA safely."
EPA and critics such as the Environmental Working Group, a private advocacy group, have charged that DuPont failed to report important findings to the federal government, including the company's discovery in the 1980s of traces of the chemical in a pregnant worker's fetus and in municipal water supplies near the company's Parkersburg, W.Va., plant. Company officials also became concerned after they received copies of an animal study that linked C-8 to possible birth defects, though they later discounted the study as inaccurate.
In their response to EPA's complaint, DuPont said one of the key internal documents in question -- which noted elevated C-8 levels in the blood of childbearing workers and in some of their infants' blood -- did not amount to a full toxicology report.
"We're talking about one data point on one sheet of paper. It was not toxicological data," Mobley said, adding that it did not meet the "substantial risk" threshold that would have required the company to notify EPA.
Andrea V. Malinowski, another DuPont lawyer, said chemicals such as C-8 "are expected to pass through the placenta."
While at least one DuPont worker had a baby with birth defects similar to the ones identified in a 1981 animal study by 3M, the company's chief toxicologist, Robert W. Rickard, said he was sure the chemical "does not cause birth defects."
DuPont officials also said that while they determined in the 1980s that local water supplies had C-8 levels that exceeded the company's internal guidelines, it is unfair of EPA to apply that standard to reporting requirements when a federal panel determined in 2001 that levels could be 150 times as high without posing a safety risk.
EPA did not comment in detail on DuPont's filing, but spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said the agency will review it and "remains committed to pursuing an appropriate resolution of DuPont's failures to report information regarding" the compound.
The company has asked for a hearing before an administrative law judge, a process it must complete before deciding whether to appeal to federal court. DuPont officials emphasized that they were cooperating with EPA on a separate risk assessment of C-8.
Tim Kropp, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, said DuPont's response reflects an unwillingness to inform the public about potential health hazards.
"This is not a company working in good faith to protect human health," Kropp said.