A former DuPont Co. engineer charged yesterday that the chemical giant deliberately ignored evidence that its grease-resistant coating on paper products may have been entering consumers' blood at levels that exceeded the federal health standard.
Glenn Evers, who worked at DuPont for 22 years before being laid off in 2002, told reporters that he became concerned about the health effects of a perfluorinated chemical used for food packaging in 1987 after company tests showed it was dissolving into wet paper at much higher levels than the Food and Drug Administration approved in the 1960s.
When the paper coating is dissolved and absorbed into the human body, it breaks down into perfluorooctanoic acid, the same chemical compound used to make Teflon. The Environmental Protection Agency's independent science advisory board will soon decide whether this compound, also known as PFOA or C-8, should be identified as a "likely human carcinogen."
The agency is also slated to decide later this month how much to fine DuPont for failing to report for more than 20 years' possible health effects associated with PFOA, a charge the company denies. The government could impose a fine as high as $313 million.
Evers said that in 1987 he told his boss, " 'We've got a real problem.' He said, 'Don't worry about it, we're working on it.' " Evers added: "We have a chemical that is bioaccumulating in every man, woman and child in America. DuPont stayed in the market strictly to make a buck."
DuPont has denied Evers's allegations, noting he recently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company, which it is contesting.
"These products are safe for consumer use," said DuPont spokesman R. Clifton Webb. "The Food and Drug Administration has researched this very question using state-of-the-art methodology and the most sensitive measurements scientifically possible, and the agency continues to approve these products as safe for consumer use."
Webb said that even though Evers is not an authority on PFOA, he testified in a West Virginia class-action suit that charged DuPont failed to inform residents near a company plant that PFOA had entered local drinking water supplies. The company has since settled the suit.
Evers said he was disturbed his company was selling the paper coating but had no ability to influence his superiors' decisions. He also said he was laid off because "I became a troublemaker."
EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said she could not comment on Evers's allegations or the upcoming decisions on fines but said the agency is assessing whether the coating could harm consumers' health.
"EPA has an extensive effort underway to determine the sources of PFOA, how the public is being exposed, and whether these exposures pose a potential health risk," Witcher said.